Istanbul: Five rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were killed and four Turkish soldiers wounded in a day of clashes Saturday, the army said, in a blow to a fragile peace process to end a decades-long insurgency.
The army said Turkish troops had been dispatched to the district of Diaydin in the Agri region of southeast Turkey after receiving intelligence of a planned "festival" to promote the "separatist terror organisation".
This is official shorthand for the PKK, banned as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and EU and whose actual name is never used by the authorities.
After being fired on, the army said it sent armed helicopters, reconnaissance jets and a commando unit to the region to battle more than two dozen militants.
In a statement on its website, the army confirmed that four Turkish soldiers had been wounded in the clashes.
"On the other side, five terrorists were killed and one wounded was captured," it said.
The army said that three of the Turkish soldiers were not severely wounded and their lives were not in danger but the fourth had undergone an operation in hospital.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the PKK of seeking "to dynamite the peace in our country and undermine the peace process", in a televised speech in the western city of Sakarya on the Black Sea.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote on Twitter "that the army was giving the necessary response to the treacherous attack."
According to the pro-Kurdish DIHA news agency, one "civilian" was killed by the army, naming him as former local politician Cezmi Budak.
It said another civilian had been wounded and six others detained. However there was no official confirmation of this information.The unrest marks a alarming spike in violence as the government seeks to make peace with the PKK after a decades-long conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish People`s Democratic Party (HDP) that acts as an intermediary between the government and PKK, called the clashes "a sad and worrying development".
"A detailed investigation is needed to find out exactly what happened," he said in televised comments.
Reports on pro-Kurdish news sites disputed the army`s version of events, saying that the military had launched an operation against a "tree planting event" led by local politicians.
Demirtas slammed the behaviour of the army, saying the military should understand "it is the army of the country and not just of a single party," in reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The PKK`s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan this year called on militants to take steps to lay down their arms in what many see as a historic breakthrough in the peace process.
The PKK initially fought for independence for Turkey`s Kurds but later softened its demands to seek greater rights and autonomy.
The head of the PKK`s paramilitary forces Cemil Bayik, who is based in northern Iraq, told German media last week that the PKK did not want to fight Turkey anymore.
He also made an apology to Germans for violent protests the PKK organised in Germany in the 1990s.
However there have been signs the peace process has been stumbling in recent months as Turkey`s political forces prepare for legislative elections on June 7.
In a tight battle, the HDP is seeking to win over 10 percent of the vote to qualify for direct representation in parliament.
Should it succeed, this could wreck the plans of the ruling AKP to win a constitutional majority to change the basic law and create a presidential system under Erdogan.