Turkey says 69 Kurdish militants killed in southeastern offensive

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Sixty-nine Kurdish insurgents and two Turkish soldiers have been killed in four days of fighting across southeast Turkey as security forces ramp up operations against the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), security sources and the military said on Saturday.

The military said Turkish warplanes taking off from their southeastern base in Diyarbakir had also bombarded PKK camps in northern Iraq on Friday, destroying shelters and weapon posts.

A two-year ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK fell apart in July, shattering peace talks and reviving a conflict that has afflicted the mainly Kurdish southeast for three decades, killing more than 40,000 people.

“The operations in the region...will continue with determination until public order is restored,” the army said in a statement carried by the semi-state Anadolu news agency. “The priority during the operations is the safety of our security forces and the civilians living in the region.”

One Turkish soldier was killed and another was lightly wounded on Saturday in clashes in Sur district, which has remained under a police curfew for the past two weeks, in the predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir province. Two special forces officers were also wounded as clashes continued in the district.

In the border town of Nusaybin, where a police curfew was in place in four districts, three police officers were wounded when PKK militants launched a rocket attack on an armoured police vehicle, security sources said.

The military said the number of Kurdish militants killed in four days of operations in Cizre and Silopi, near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, had risen to 69. The towns, both under curfew, are central targets in Turkey’s latest anti-PKK offensive, in which media reports say 10,000 police and troops, backed by tanks, are taking part.

One of two government soldiers wounded in Cizre on Friday had succumbed to his injuries, the military said.

The head of the armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, and other senior commanders visited troops in the region on Saturday and were briefed on the operations.

Although traditionally rooted in the countryside, the PKK has shifted its focus in recent years to towns and cities in the southeast, setting up barricades and digging trenches to keep security forces away.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Kurdish militants would be “annihilated” in their trenches and houses and that the operations would continue until the area was “cleansed” of the militants and their barricades destroyed.

Peace talks between jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the state ground to a halt early this year. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mark Trevelyan