Military: 8 Turkish soldiers, 12 Kurdish rebels killed in clash near Iraqi border

By Suzan Fraser, AP
Saturday, June 19, 2010

8 Turkish soldiers, 12 rebels killed in clashes

ANKARA, Turkey — Kurdish rebels attacked a military outpost near the Iraqi border early on Saturday, sparking clashes in which at least eight soldiers and 12 Kurdish rebel fighters were killed, Turkey’s military said. Fourteen other soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

The military immediately sent special forces as reinforcements to the area while helicopter gunships and artillery fire targeted rebel positions, the military said in a statement.

Separately, Turkish warplanes attacked rebel positions across the border in northern Iraq, it said.

Kurdish rebels have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey in recent months, threatening a government attempt to end one of the world’s longest guerrilla wars. Six soldiers were killed and seven others wounded last month in a rocket attack on a vehicle near a naval base in southern Turkey.

Turkey’s military has responded by sending warplanes across the border for raids on suspected rebel bases while elite commandos crossed the border in pursuit of the rebels in a daylong incursion earlier this week.

The rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. The Turkish military says around 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq and that about 2,500 operate inside Turkey.

The group declared it was increasing attacks on June 1, a day after imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement relayed by his lawyers that his calls for rebel dialogue with Turkey had been ignored and that he was giving his consent to the rebel command in northern Iraq to determine which course of action to take.

The military said Saturday’s attack occurred at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Friday) on an outpost near the town of Semdinli — a mountainous region where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet. Private NTV television, without citing sources, said a large group of PKK rebels infiltrated the area from hideouts across the Iraqi border.

Clashes in the region were continuing sporadically, NTV said.

The United States, which along with the European Union, has declared the PKK to be a terrorist group, has provided intelligence to Turkey in support of its fight against the rebels. Turkey also uses drones it recently purchased from Israel.

Armagan Kuloglu, a retired general and military analyst, said, however, there appeared to be a deficiency in the intelligence and that the advance of the rebels should have been detected.

On Friday, the military said it had killed as many as 120 Kurdish rebels in an air raid on rebel positions in northern Iraq last month and in this week’s incursion by elite commandos who crossed the border to hunt down a group of PKK rebels who escaped after a failed attack near the border town of Uludere.

Turkey has launched several air and ground incursions into northern Iraq over the 26 years of the insurgency, with mixed results. The rebels have returned to positions along the border soon after the troops have withdrawn.

The Marxist group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the West for killing civilians in urban bombings and arson attacks and slaying government teachers, engineers and clergymen.

The government has extended greater cultural rights to the Kurds such as broadcasts in the Kurdish language on television, in an effort to win their hearts and reduce support for the rebels.

Turkey, however, rejects calls from the Kurdish rebels and politicians to allow education in schools in Kurdish. The language is also barred in parliament and other official settings on the grounds that its use would divide the country along ethnic lines.

The conflict has killed as many as 40,000 people since 1984.

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