Fulya Ozerkan, AFP
Last updated: 5 August, 2012

Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkish army kills 19

Kurdish rebels stormed a Turkish army post on the Iraq border Sunday, triggering fighting that killed 22 people in the latest clash since Ankara launched a major offensive against the outlawed PKK.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack as a “dastardly” act and warned that Turkey had the strength to deal not just with the the rebels, but with those countries that supported them.

Six soldiers, two village guards and 14 Kurdish rebels were killed following the assault on an army post in a village in the southeastern province of Hakkari, the local governor told the Anatolia news agency.

Three of the slain rebels were women, said governor Orhan Alimoglu.

Another 15 soldiers, one village guard and five civilians were wounded, said a statement from the governor’s office cited by Anatolia.

The rebels, from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), had launched simultaneous assaults on three border posts.

All the casualties occurred at a post in the village of Gecimli, private station NTV television reported.

It was the deadliest clash since June when fighting between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish rebels left 28 people dead following a similar attack on an army post in the same region.

Erdogan, in a statement posted on the prime minister’s office website, denounced Sunday’s attack as a “dastardly” act.

“Terror is doomed to failure … sooner or later,” he said.

And he warned that Turkey had the strength to bring into line not only the PKK but also “hostile countries and environs that hold in their hands the terrorist organisation’s strings.”

He did not name those countries.

But Erdogan has in recent weeks accused the regime in Syria of giving Kurdish rebels a free hand in the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike “terrorists”.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin told Anatolia that 115 Kurdish insurgents had so far been killed in an operation launched in Semdinli on July 23-24 against Kurdish militants.

He said the security forces had taken measures to stop PKK fighter fleeing to northern Iraq, where they have bases.

A series of PKK assaults against troops in the Kurdish-dominated southeast prompted the army to launch the major ground and air offensive against PKK bases in the region last month.

Erdogan told ATV television on Sunday that the operation would not stop unless the PKK laid down its arms.

Following the latest violence, Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) called for an emergency session in the parliament.

He called on the government to provide more details on the Semdinli operation.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in the southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

Turkey’s latest offensive against the PKK comes as Kurds in northern Syria are reported to have taken control of some regions as fighting escalates in the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Reports that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s Syrian ally, controls parts of northern Syria has alarmed Ankara.

Turkey has massed a tanks, weapons and ground-to-air missile batteries on the border with Syria and staged military drills in recent weeks.

Ties between one-time allies Ankara and Damascus have soured since Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent in March last year.

Relations hit an all-time low after a Turkish fighter jet was brought down by Syrian fire in June, killing its two pilots and leading Ankara to brand Damascus a “hostile” opponent.

Damascus in turn has accused Ankara of supporting “terrorists” to bring down the Syrian regime — a reference to the Free Syrian Army of defecting soldiers, which has a base on the Turkish side of the border.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited northern Iraq for talks with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani about the situation in northern Syria.

“The new Syria should be free of any terrorist and extremist group or organisation,” the two said in a rare joint statement.

Although Turkey has built ties with the Kurdish regional government in the north of Iraq, Ankara is opposed to the idea of a separate Kurdish state.