The fighting on Saturday, the worst in recent years, occurred in a remote valley, considered a centre for Kurdish rebel groups.

The slain rebels were members of the underground Maoist Communist Party (MKP), which aspires to overthrow the government, according to Turkish officials.

Security sources who spoke of nine dead on Friday said the tally included senior members of the group.

In a separate incident at Van, near the Iranian border, Turkish troops killed two members of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported, quoting local officials.

Tensions in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast and east have escalated since last year when the PKK ended a five-year unilateral ceasefire with the government.

The group waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in the region between 1984 and 1999, which claimed about 37,000 lives.