Turkish forces kill four Kurdish militants as clashes rage on

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey Tue Jan 22, 2013 10:13am EST

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish security forces killed four Kurdish militants on Tuesday, security officials said, during clashes that have raged on despite government moves to start a peace process with the fighters' jailed leader.

The four Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas were killed in countryside in the Midyat district of Turkey's southeastern Mardin province, near the border with Syria, and fighting was ongoing, the officials said.

The clash came a week after militants killed a police officer in Midyat and media reports said security forces had trapped PKK fighters in a cave in the area.

More than 40,000 people have died in fighting since the PKK took up arms in 1984 seeking autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Hopes of an end to the conflict have grown in recent weeks after the government acknowledged state intelligence officials were talking to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The talks are focused on sealing a deal under which PKK militants would stop fighting, then withdraw from Turkish soil and finally disarm, according to Turkish media reports. In return, the government would carry out reforms boosting minority Kurdish rights.

While backing the moves towards peace, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said military operations will continue until the disarmament of the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Kurdish politicians have criticized the continued operations, including the bombing of PKK targets at their bases in northern Iraq, saying they undermine efforts to build trust.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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