DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey intensified on Friday after Turkish planes bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq.
More than 10,000 soldiers, backed by helicopter gunships, clashed with the rebels near the Iraq border in Sirnak and Hakkari provinces, and troop reinforcements were sent in from regional military bases to help the offensive.
“Separatist terrorist organization targets were hit by Turkish Armed Forces planes last night in northern Iraq, notably in the Qandil mountain and Hakurk region,” the army said.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the main rebel group in Turkey, has bases in northern Iraq from where it attacks Turkish troops and military installations. More than 70 soldiers have been killed this year in PKK attacks, more deaths than the military suffered in the whole of last year.
“The targets were hit successfully,” the army said in a statement posted on its website. The bombing followed clashes in predominantly Kurdish southeast Turkey on Thursday in which 17 soldiers and rebels died.
Roj Welat, a PKK spokesman, said the Turkish airstrikes lasted from 11 p.m. (8 p.m. GMT) on Thursday to 1 a.m. on Friday. “There are no human losses among our people, only property damage and dead livestock,” Welat said.
Public anger at the government’s inability to stop the rising violence in the southeast has forced Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to ask Turkey’s allies for support.
Intelligence sharing between Turkey and the United States has increased the effectiveness of sporadic air raids on the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.
The PKK called off a unilateral ceasefire on June 1, accusing the government of failing to meet Kurdish demands. It has ruled out another truce for the time being.
Erdogan has tried to expand cultural rights for the Kurds, who make up some 15 to 20 percent of Turkey’s population, but has been thwarted by opposition in parliament which has lost him support in nationalist circles.
The PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 in a bid to carve out an independent Kurdish state. It has since scaled back its demands to greater political rights for Kurds. More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in the war.
Additional reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Iraq; Writing by Thomas Grove; editing by Tim Pearce