Turkey troops, PKK Kurdish rebels killed in clashes

Helicopter flies above Turkish army outpost in Hakkari province on 19 June 2012
Image caption The army has been authorised to pursue insurgents

At least 18 people have died in fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels in south-east Turkey, officials say.

Eight soldiers were killed and 16 wounded when Kurdish fighters attacked army outposts in Hakkari province, near the border with Iraq and Iran, early on Tuesday.

Troops counterattacked, killing at least 10 rebels, officials said.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

Several thousand Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels are believed to be based in hideouts in northern Iraq.

Security sources told Reuters that the rebels had crossed the border to carry out the attack on an army post, and had then retreated back to Iraq.

Top army commanders, including armed forces chief Gen Necdet Ozel, as well as senior ministers have travelled to the area to assess the situation.

The number of clashes between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces has risen in southeast Turkey over the past year, and the PKK has in the past carried out bombings in other parts of the country.

A powerful bomb in Ankara in September last year killed three people and wounded 15.

Hard line

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the government would continue fighting the rebels "until the end".

"Sooner or later, we will succeed," he said. "There is only one thing terrorists must do and that is to lay down their arms."

Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), called on both sides to stop fighting.

"The PKK should stop every kind of armed activity. The government should also halt operations."

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul said the attack, near Yuksekova, followed the same pattern as other recent operations by the PKK.

Mr Erdogan's government has taken an increasingly hard line towards the PKK, our correspondent says.

Thousands of Kurdish civilians believed to support the movement have been arrested, and the army has been authorised to pursue and engage insurgents.

At the same time, Mr Erdogan has sought to address some of the Kurdish minority's grievances, recently telling parliament that Kurdish-language lessons may be offered in schools.

The government acknowledges that the conflict cannot be solved through military means, although negotiations have made little headway, our correspondent adds.

Kurdish minorities constitute up to a fifth of Turkey's population and also live in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US, launched a guerrilla campaign in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in the Kurdish heartland in the south-east of Turkey.

It has now dropped a claim for an independent Kurdish state but says it is fighting for autonomy and the cultural rights of the Kurdish people.