Turkish troops have killed 16 Kurdish fighters during an operation in southeastern Turkey in response to a bomb attack on a military convoy that killed five soldiers, according to the local governor’s office.
The clashes, which occurred on Wednesday and Thursday, are part of a growing cycle of violence in the remote, mountainous province of Hakkari bordering Iraq and Iran – a development which Turkish officials and analysts are linking to the deepening conflict in Syria.
“We always stand by our people. Our people should not worry. The Turkish armed forces will continue in its duty to protect the security of the people and the region“
– Hayri Kivrikoglu,
The army sent in troop reinforcements and helicopter gunships after Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) activists detonated remote-controlled bombs in the attack on the army convoy in Hakkari’s Semdinli district on Wednesday, the Reuters news agency said.
Five soldiers were killed and seven wounded in that attack, the Hakkari governor’s office said in a statement.
“This latest attack happened in the Hakkari province to the southeast of Turkey, bordering with Iraq and Iran,” Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reported from Antakya on Thursday.
“It seems the PKK planted a device next to the road where the Turkish military convoy was due to pass. It blew up and there were firefights between the PKK and the Turkish soldiers overnight between Wednesday and Thursday.
“According to Turkish authorities it left five Turkish soldiers dead, and 16 PKK fighters,” she said.
In a sign of Turkey’s growing concern over the mounting violence in the mainly Kurdish region, the commander of the
military’s land forces arrived in Hakkari on Thursday.
He sought to reassure mainstream public opinion, which favours a hardline response to fighters’ attacks.
“Our operations in the area will continue without pause,” General Hayri Kivrikoglu was quoted as saying on state media Anatolia’s website.
“We always stand by our people. Our people should not worry. The Turkish armed forces will continue in its duty to protect the security of the people and the region,” he said.
‘Upsurge of violence’
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the PKK and Turkish forces since the group launched its armed campaign 28 years ago.
Since June last year, nearly 800 people have died in the conflict, including about 500 PKK fighters, more than 200
security personnel and about 85 civilians, according to estimates by the International Crisis Group think-tank.
|Officials say a total of nine people were killed and 69 injured when a car bomb exploded in Gaziantep on Monday [AFP]|
The conflict is focused in the mountainous region bordering Iraq and Iran, but the PKK has also carried out attacks in Turkish cities.
“This is just the latest in an upsurge of violence by The PKK in the month of August,” our correspondent said.
“Last Monday in Gaziantep, a northern Turkish city, there was a car bomb that exploded outside a police station killing nine, including four children. The PKK denied responsibility but many Turkish MPs are quietly saying they do believe at least it was a branch of the PKK.
Gaziantep is near Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria. Turton said “many believe that the Syrian conflict is fuelling the Turkish violence by the PKK.
“There is a feeling certainly in Ankara, amongst the Turkish government, that what is happening in Syria is at least encouraging the PKK to commit more violence,” she said.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of backing PKK fighters and has threatened to intervene militarily in Syria if the group uses Syrian territory to threaten Turkey.