Turkish soldiers have clashed with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey, leaving 19 people dead. Fighting erupted after Kurdish rebels attacked several army bases near the Iraqi border.
Six Turkish soldiers, two state militiamen and 11 Kurdish militants were killed, a local governor said on Sunday, following an overnight rebel attack on an army post in a village in the southeastern province of Hakkari. Another 15 soldiers were wounded in the raid, governor Orhan Alimoglu told Turkey's Anatolia news agency.
A large group of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters were believed to have targeted several military outposts in the area after crossing over from northern Iraq, where the organization's leaders are based.
Turkish security officials said they were armed with guns and rocket launchers. A total of three bases were attacked, but no further casualties were reported.
It was the latest in a series of assaults carried out by PKK rebels in the Kurdish-dominated southeast in recent weeks. The military responded to the heightened threat two weeks ago by launching one of the biggest ground and air operations in recent years.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay confirmed last week that a "serious and strong operation" was under way in the town of Semdinli, also in Hakkari province, where the military is seeking to drive out PKK rebels.
According to Turkey's private NTV broadcaster, some 2,000 soldiers are involved in the offensive.
Turkey fears widened PKK threat
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community. It launched an armed campaign for autonomy in the mainly Kurdish southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.
Analysts in Turkey have warned that the conflict could intensify further as Kurds in northern Syria gain ground. As President Bashar Assad's troops crack down on a rebel uprising elsewhere in the country, members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK's Syrian ally, have reportedly taken control of several regions.
The move has prompted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accuse Damascus of allowing Kurdish rebels a free hand in the country's north. He has warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike "terrorists."
ccp/tj (AFP, Reuters)
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