Eighteen people were killed in fighting between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish militants at three military outposts in southeast Turkey, officials and security sources said, in the deadliest clashes in recent months.
Eight Turkish soldiers were killed and 16 others wounded in simultaneous attacks by the militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on the outposts, the sources said.
In subsequent clashes Turkish troops killed 10 PKK militants, according to the governor’s office in Hakkari province where the fighting occurred, near the mountainous border with Iraq, Reuters reports.
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.