Turkish troops kill 21 PKK militants in clashes

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:51pm EDT

Turkish soldiers patrol a road near Cukurca in the Hakkari province, southeastern Turkey, near the Turkish-Iraqi border October 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

Turkish soldiers patrol a road near Cukurca in the Hakkari province, southeastern Turkey, near the Turkish-Iraqi border October 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - 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 center 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 organization 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.

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul,; Writing by Daren Butler and Jonathon Burch; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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