ISTANBUL, Turkey – Kurdish rebels killed 12 people Saturday in a minibus carrying pro-government village guards and civilians in southeastern Turkey, a local official said.
The rebels attacked the minibus in Sirnak province near the border with Iraq with machine guns, killing 7 village guards and five civilians, governor Selahattin Apari said.
Two civilians who were injured in the attack were rushed to nearby hospitals with military helicopters, Apari's office said in a statement. The villagers had been on their way home after going out to get drinking water, the statement said.
Troops were combing the rugged area in search of the rebels, Apari said.
The ambush by autonomy seeking Kurdish rebels came a day after Turkey clinched a counterterrorism pact with Iraq, where the rebels have bases.
Turkey has pondered a cross-border military operation to root out the members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, holed up in the mountainous areas of northern Iraq. However, the United States —a close ally of Ankara— objected to such a move, fearing it could destabilize the relatively calm part of the war-torn country.
Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq also were opposed to a possible military move by Turkey across the border.
Despite Ankara's insistence, the Iraqi side refused to allow Turkey to send its troops across the border to chase the Kurdish rebels after four days of negotiations that ended Friday.
"The PKK is an organization that aims to harm Turkey," Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said after signing the agreement. "The Iraqi government cannot accept that its neighbors, and especially Turkey, are subjected to danger that emanates from our country."
But the pact was heavily criticized by Turkish nationalists as being not efficient against the rebel groups that hide across the border.
The PKK is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. The group has been fighting the government forces since 1984 for autonomy, and tens of thousands were killed in the fighting.
Turkish troops killed 20 rebels in operations over the past 15 days in Sirnak province, authorities said Friday. No soldiers were killed, they said.