DIYARBAKIR: Turkish soldiers killed five Kurdish rebels who attacked state buildings in a town in southeast Turkey on Thursday evening, bringing to 21 the number of militants killed since they launched a deadly bomb attack on an army convoy a day earlier.
The clashes underscore a growing cycle of violence in the remote, mountainous province of Hakkari bordering Iraq and Iran, a development which Turkish officials and analysts are linking to the conflict in nearby Syria.
Security officials said Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels launched simultaneous raids on Thursday on two military posts in Hakkari’s Semdinli district, the scene of frequent clashes between rebels and government forces over the last month.
At least one soldier had been killed in those attacks.
Later on Thursday evening, the PKK attacked a police station and state offices in the centre of Semdinli and five militants were killed in those attacks, the officials said.
The attacks came only hours after government officials said Turkish troops had killed 16 PKK fighters in an offensive targeting militants who killed five soldiers and wounded seven on Wednesday in a bomb attack on their convoy in Semdinli.
Officials said the army had sent in troop reinforcements and helicopter gunships after Wednesday’s attack.
In a sign of Ankara’s concern over the violence in the mainly Kurdish region, the commander of the military's land forces arrived in Hakkari on Thursday. General Hayri Kivrikoglu said the army's operations would continue “without pause”.
“We always stand by our people. Our people should not worry.
The Turkish armed forces will continue in its duty to protect the security of the people and the region,” Kivrikoglu was quoted as saying on state media Anatolian's website.
It was not immediately clear whether Kivrikoglu was still in Hakkari when the militants launched their latest attacks.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the PKK and Turkish forces since the militants launched their insurgency 28 years ago with the aim of carving out a separate state in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.
The PKK has since scaled back its demands to political autonomy and more cultural rights for Turkey's estimated 14 million ethnic Kurds.
Since June last year, nearly 800 people have died in the conflict, including about 500 PKK fighters, more than 200 security personnel and about 85 civilians, according to estimates by think-tank International Crisis Group.
The conflict is focused in the mountainous region bordering Iraq and Iran, but the PKK has also carried out attacks in Turkish cities. Officials blamed it for a car bombing on Monday which killed nine people in the city of Gaziantep, near Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has denied involvement in that attack.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of backing PKK fighters and has warned of military intervention in Syria if the group uses Syrian territory to threaten Turkey.
Although the Turkish southeast is a frequent scene of Kurdish rebel attacks, Wednesday's bombing that killed nine people in previously unaffected Gaziantep city has sparked national fury, as well as suspicions of a Damascus hand behind the incident.
“It's known that the PKK works hand in hand with Syria's intelligence organisation Al-Mukhabarat,” claimed ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chairman Huseyin Celik following the blast, referring to the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “is inclined to see Turkey's enemy the PKK as a friend on the basis that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend,'” he told the daily Hurriyet.
The Kurdish separatist movement has denied charges that it was involved in the bombing that left civilian casualties, including four children, but Ankara insists it reflected the handiwork of the rebels.
Assad is orchestrating the PKK attacks to send a “warning” to the Turkish government to reconsider its policies of assisting his own enemies, columnist Deniz Zeyrek wrote in the daily Radikal.
Another columnist, Asli Aydintasbas of the daily Milliyet, also suggested that the PKK targeted Gaziantep in a blow at the Turkish government's Syria policy.
Speaking to the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet in early July, Assad rejected claims that his regime was using the PKK to undermine Ankara, while making it clear that it was angry with Turkey.