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Updated: July 20, 2010 20:33 IST

Kurdish rebels kill seven Turkish soldiers

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Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. File photo: AP.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. File photo: AP.

Kurdish rebels killed six Turkish soldiers and wounded 15 in an overnight raid on Tuesday on a military outpost along the border with Iraq, indicating the resiliency of their low—level insurgency and the failure of efforts to reach a peace accord. Another soldier died in a separate attack.

Troops backed by helicopter gunships surged into the mountainous area after the attack, even as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that military action alone would not end a 26—year conflict rooted in the grievances of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

“There is no magic wand,” Mr. Erdogan said in a weekly address in Parliament. “If we look at it as merely a question of security, we would be wrong. We have done so for years. The results are clear. But this issue has sociological, psychological, diplomatic and many other aspects.”

According to the prime minister and Anatolia news agency, rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, fired rockets and other weapons at the unit at around 2 a.m. At least one rebel was killed, and clashes were underway later in the day.

The fighting happened near the town of Cukurca in Hakkari province in southeast Turkey, a frequent site of attacks by PKK militants who slip across an Iraqi border that is difficult to police because of its remote and rugged landscape.

In a separate attack on Tuesday, suspected rebels fired on a military vehicle near the town of Gurpinar in Van province, north of Cukurca, DHA news agency reported. One soldier died, and the attackers fled.

Labelled terrorists by Turkey and the West, the rebels have accelerated operations since June, declaring that the government was not sincere about seeking peace. Mr. Erdogan’s government has tried to improve the lot of Turkish Kurds, who comprise up to 20 percent of Turkey’s population of more than 70 million. It allowed Kurdish—language television broadcasts and other rights aimed at blunting rebel calls for more autonomy in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

However, the return last year of a group of PKK rebels from Iraq to Turkey in what was supposed to be a reconciliation gesture turned sour. The rebels cast it as a victory celebration, infuriating Turks and sapping support for government initiatives.

A recent decision by jailed PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan to leave decisions to rebel commanders in the field led to more ambushes, said Carina O’Reilly, Europe analyst for London—based Jane’s Country Risk. She said there could be more attacks in urban settings if the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a PKK branch with some autonomy, become more active.

“The PKK seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to keep going at this low level of insurgency,” Ms. O’Reilly said. “There’s no real military way of flushing them out.”

Turkey, a NATO member, has a mostly conscript force of about 1 million and has conducted frequent air attacks on suspected rebel hideouts in northern Iraq. Turkish leaders, however, acknowledge that the tactic cannot wipe out the PKK, which is weaker than in its 1990s heyday, and might serve as a recruitment tool by pushing angry youths into rebel ranks.

Also on Tuesday, Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday started debating an amendment to soften an anti—terrorism law that has been used to jail Kurdish minors involved in violent protests. The proposal would reduce or waive jail terms for Kurdish youths convicted of throwing stones at the police.

The government proposed the measure in late 2009, but it was shelved amid nationalist fury after a Kurdish firebomb attack killed a Turkish woman this year. Those who bear firearms or ammunition would not receive leniency.

Mr. Erdogan said lawmakers would hopefully approve the measure by the end of this week.

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