Deadly clashes in southeast Turkey on Tuesday claimed the lives of eight Turkish soldiers and 10 Kurdish rebels, the local governor’s office said.
Eight Turkish soldiers were killed and 16 wounded when members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked an army post at Yesiltas, near the border with Iraq and Iran, the governor’s office said in a statement posted on its website.
“Operations are continuing in the region. According to preliminary findings, 10 terrorists were rendered ineffective,” it added, a term often used by Turkish officials and security forces to refer to rebel deaths.
A group of Kurdish rebels are believed to have crossed into Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq to attack the army post at Yesiltas, local security services said.
The Turkish NTV news channel said ground troops and combat helicopters were pursuing the assailants, according to a Reuters news agency report.
“This mountainous region of Turkey is often the scene of violent clashes between security forces and Kurdish rebels, which escalate their attacks in the summer months,” the report stated, adding:
“Turkish warplanes generally bomb PKK hideouts in retaliations for attacks on troops.”
The attack came at a time of new efforts in Turkey to address the grievances of the Kurdish minority in a bid to end a conflict that has scarred the region for three decades.
The guerrillas began the coordinated attacks with rocket launchers and rifles at around 5 a.m. (0200 GMT) on the military observation points, the sources said, adding that operations were continuing against the rebels.
The militants were believed to have crossed the border from northern Iraq to carry out the attacks before retreating back across the border, the sources said.
Several thousand PKK militants are based in mountain hideouts in northern Iraq, from where they regularly launch attacks on state targets in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.
The head of the armed forces General Necdet Ozel rushed to the region, along with the commanders of the ground forces and paramilitary gendarmerie, Turkish media reported.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its separatist insurgency in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
As Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan seeks an end to the conflict, the leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party said this month he was willing to work with the ruling AK Party to resolve the Kurdish problem.
Erdogan subsequently told parliament that Kurdish language lessons could be offered as an optional course in schools. He also suggested he was prepared to hold talks with prominent Kurdish politician Leyla Zana after she said she believed Erdogan was capable of ending the Kurdish troubles.
Amid speculation about further moves to end the conflict, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc raised the possibility at the weekend of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan being put under house arrest if the militants were to lay down their weapons.
However other leading government figures, pointing to nationalist sensitivities over such a radical move, dismissed the idea, and Erdogan said it was only Arinc’s personal view.
Concerns about the PKK insurgency have been exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, which also has a Kurdish minority.
PKK rebels have launched sporadic attacks in recent months near the Syrian border in Hatay province, where thousands of Syrians are housed in refugee camps. One Turkish soldier was killed on Monday night in Hatay in a clash with PKK militants, the governor’s office there said in a statement.
Monday’s attack in Hakkari drew parallels with an assault on a military outpost in the same region of Daglica in 2007, when 12 soldiers were killed and 8 were kidnapped by the PKK.