26 killed in clashes in southeast Turkey
Kurdish rebels attacked Turkish military units with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades sparking clashes that killed 18 rebels and eight soldiers.
Ankara: Kurdish rebels attacked Turkish military units with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades on Tuesday in southeastern Turkey, sparking clashes that killed 18 rebels and eight soldiers, authorities said. The attack drew a strong condemnation from Turkey`s leader.
Another 16 soldiers were wounded in the attack in the Daglica area of Hakkari province, which borders northern Iraq`s Kurdish areas, the governor`s office in Hakkari said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters in Mexico where he is attending a Group of 20 Summit, said his government was determined to press ahead with the fight against the PKK "until the end" and repeated a call on the group to lay down arms.
"Sooner or later, we will succeed," Erdogan said in televised remarks. "There is just one thing the terrorists must do and that it is to lay down arms."
The military`s top brass rushed to the area to assess the situation as the Cabinet convened to discuss the attack.
A statement released after the meeting said unmanned drones, fighter jets and helicopters were sent to back up troops deployed to fight the rebels. The rebel death toll, initially announced as 10, increased to 18 by the late afternoon.
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.
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.
An estimated 20 per cent of Turkey`s 75 million people are Kurds. Today`s attack came amid efforts by the government to try to reconcile with the Kurdish minority by granting more cultural rights.
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 and politicians to hold full education in Kurdish, fearing that it could divide the country along ethnic lines.
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 PKK.