18 killed in clashes in southeast Turkey

AP News
Posted: Jun 19, 2012 6:52 AM
18 killed in clashes in southeast Turkey

Kurdish rebels attacked Turkish military units with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades Tuesday in southeastern Turkey, sparking clashes in which 10 rebels and eight soldiers died, authorities said.

The attack happened in Daglica area of Hakkari province, which borders northern Iraq's Kurdish areas. Sixteen Turkish soldiers were also wounded in the attack, the governor's office in Hakkari said. The military's top brass and Cabinet ministers rushed to the area to assess the situation as the Cabinet convened to discuss the attack.

A similar rebel attack in the same area in late 2007, when 12 Turkish soldiers died, triggered an eight-day incursion by the Turkish military into Iraq in February 2008. Rebels use northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks on Turkish troops.

The rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey. Tens of thousands have died since it took up arms in 1984.

Tuesday's attack came amid efforts by the government to try to reconcile with the Kurdish minority through granting more cultural rights. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced plans to introduce elective Kurdish lessons in schools, after allowing Kurdish language broadcasts on television, Kurdish-language institutes and private Kurdish courses.

Turkey refuses demands by Kurdish activists, rebels and politicians to hold full education in Kurdish, fearing that it could divide the country along ethnic lines.

An estimated 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people are Kurds.

Faruk Bal, deputy chairman of a nationalist opposition party, told TRT television Tuesday that his party will not join search for a political solution the conflict because it is against giving any concessions to the rebel group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

"Today's violence shows that whatever you give, they will ask for more as long as they have their weapons in their hands," Bal said.

The 27-nation EU, which Turkey is striving to join, has pushed the Turkish government to grant more rights to the Kurds. But EU countries also have urged Kurdish lawmakers to distance themselves from the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK.

"The PKK should cease every kind of armed action," Selahattin Demirtas, chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, told a meeting of Kurdish lawmakers in Parliament after the attack on Tuesday. "The government should also end military operations."

A senior Kurdish rebel commander, Bahoz Erdal, ruled out a cease-fire or laying down arms in an interview with the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency in remarks published Tuesday.