DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AFP) – Kurdish rebels killed three Turkish soldiers and 10 of their own militants died in an attack on a military outpost in southeastern Turkey, officials said Tuesday.
The attack was the latest in a surge of violence by Kurdish rebels, prompting Turkey’s army chief to highlight the danger posed by Iraq granting the rebels safe haven in the north of the country from where they launch their attacks into Turkey.
The fighting erupted when militants from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked the outpost overnight Monday in a rural area in Hakkari province near the borders with Iraq and Iran, the governor’s office said.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, has dramatically stepped up violence since its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan said through his lawyers in May he was abandoning efforts to seek dialogue with Ankara.
The clashes also left three soldiers wounded. Another nine soldiers were wounded in three other PKK attacks late Monday, Anatolia news agency reported.
Five of them were injured when rebels ambushed a military unit in the eastern province of Siirt, two were fired upon in Hakkari, and another two stepped on a landmine planted by the rebels, also in Hakkari, it said.
In remarks late Monday, chief of general staff Ilker Basbug described the safe haven the militants enjoy in northern Iraq, an autonomous region run by the Iraqi Kurds, as “the greatest threat” facing Turkey, Anatolia reported.
The PKK could pose security threats also for Iraq after US troops withdraw from the country, Anatolia quoted him as saying in a television programme.
“The PKK presence in the north of Iraq could have a negative impact on Turkish-Iraqi ties. In a sense, it could have a negative impact also on Turkish-US ties,” he said.
The PKK has long taken refuge in remote mountains in the region, using rare bases there as a launching pad for attacks across the border.
Ankara had often accused the Iraqi Kurds of tolerating and even aiding the PKK, but has recently shifted to a policy of seeking cooperation with them to curb the group.
The United States has pledged support against the PKK, supplying its NATO ally with intelligence on rebel movements in northern Iraq to back up Turkish air raids against PKK hideouts in the region.
The surging violence has dealt a severe blow to an already fragile government initiative to boost Kurdish freedoms and investment in the impoverished southeast in a bid to erode separatist sentiment among the Kurds and cajole the PKK into laying down arms.
Ankara however rejects dialogue with the PKK, insisting the rebels should either surrender or face the army. The PKK took up arms in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.