Nineteen dead as Kurdish rebels attack soldiers in Turkey
TUNCELI, Turkey (Reuters) – Six Turkish soldiers, two state militiamen and 11 Kurdish militants were killed after the rebels attacked military outposts in southeast Turkey, security sources said on Sunday.
Another 16 soldiers and six civilians were wounded in the simultaneous attacks overnight on the three bases on the outskirts of the town of Cukurca in Hakkari province, which borders Iraq, said the sources who declined to be named.
Clashes between the military and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have intensified in recent weeks in a conflict that has dragged on for 28 years and claimed 40,000 mainly Kurdish lives.
Some analysts in Turkey warn of a widening conflict after Kurds in northern Syria, some of whom are aligned with the PKK, assert themselves amid a power vacuum as President Bashar al-Assad’s troops crack down on rebels elsewhere in the country.
Syrian forces have been trying to put down a 17-month popular uprising, and more than 18,000 people have died.
Millions of ethnic Kurds live in mostly adjoining areas in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
In the latest attack in Turkey, a large group of PKK fighters armed with guns and rocket launchers crossed over from northern Iraq, where the organisation’s leaders are based, to strike the outposts, the security officials said.
The Turkish military has sent reinforcements and at least four attack helicopters to the area to fight the PKK, and operations were continuing on Sunday, they said.
Near the town of Semdinli, a 200 km (125 mile) drive from Cukurca, Turkish forces have been battling 200 PKK fighters for about two weeks, and at least two soldiers have been killed.
Security sources say 50 rebels have also been killed there.
Journalists and other non-residents have been barred entry to the Semdinli area since the fighting began.
The PKK has waged an armed campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. Turkey, the United States and the European Union list the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Murat Karayilan, the acting PKK leader, last week said the group was changing tactics with its fight in Semdinli, according to Firat News, a website close to the militants.
Instead of its traditional hit-and-run ambushes on Turkish security forces, PKK fighters would remain positioned in Semdinli in an attempt to form a stronghold there, he said.
Villagers have been fleeing their homes in Semdinli as the fighting continues, witnesses have reported.
(Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Jon Hemming)