Kurdish Rebels Kill 12 Turkish Soldiers

Kurdish guerrillas, staging attacks from northern Iraq, ambushed and killed seven soldiers and one village guard inside Turkey, authorities announced Sunday.

The ambush on Saturday near Eruh, a town in Siirt province, increased the number of Turkish soldiers killed in action by the autonomy-seeking guerrillas to 12 since Thursday, increasing pressure on the government to consider new security measures against the guerrillas.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday expressed outrage at the killings, signaling that Turkey could step up its fight against the outlawed Kurdish guerrillas.

CountryWatch: Turkey

Turkey's High Anti-Terrorism Council — gathering high military, civilian, police and intelligence officials — held an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss possible new measures against guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who have escalated their violence lately. The guerrillas also recently gunned down a policeman and two Turkish noncommissioned officers in separate attacks in the southeast.

Turkish troops, reinforced by helicopter gunships, were pursuing the guerillas in the rugged region near the town of Eruh. U.S.-made Cobra attack helicopters pounded suspected rebel hideouts, while Sikorsky helicopters ferried Turkish commandos to strategic points along the Iraqi border in order to surround the guerrillas, private Dogan news agency said.

Some tanks and armored personnel carriers also were dispatched to the scene, Dogan said.

In other violence Sunday, troops killed one Kurdish rebel in a clash in Bingol province, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

The rebels operate in small bands in the country's southeast and use their bases in neighboring Iraq as a staging ground for attacks inside Turkey. Turkey has long urged the United States and Iraq to crack down on rebel bases in northern Iraq, but U.S. commanders, struggling to battle Iraqi insurgents elsewhere, have been reticent to fight the Kurdish rebels.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU.

Erdogan said the PKK was "mercilessly martyring the sons of the country," in reference to the latest killings of Turkish soldiers. The clash in Siirt left seven soldiers and one pro-government village guard dead on Saturday while five soldiers were killed on Thursday when their vehicle hit a land mine, believed to be planted by Kurdish guerrillas, in Bingol province.

"Until now, we've always been dealing with this with patience. We've always wanted to solve this within democratic lines," Erdogan said. "Tonight, eight of our children were martyred. They had martyred five of our children in Bingol, too. From now on, these are unbearable."

The PKK called a unilateral cease-fire after the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, but resumed fighting in 2004 because Turkey still labeled the group a terrorist organization and refused to talk to it.

Turkey, whose fight against the guerrillas has stained the country's human rights record, has been trying to improve treatment of its Kurds under pressure from the European Union and has granted more cultural rights, such as the right to broadcast in the once-banned Kurdish language.

Erdogan hinted that a security meeting and subsequent Cabinet meeting Monday could lead to new measures in the fight against Kurdish guerrillas.

"Let me say that the meeting we will hold tomorrow morning and the following Cabinet meeting could lead to many things," Erdogan said, without elaborating. "We will never be daunted in our fight against terrorism. We will continue this fight until the very end."

Turkey has launched several incursions into northern Iraq in the past, but has refrained from staging any cross-border offensive in order not to worsen the security situation in Iraq. However, Turkey has been keeping some 2,000 troops, backed by tanks, inside Iraq to monitor the rebel activities there.

The bloody conflict claimed the lives of 37,000 people since the guerillas took up arms for autonomy in 1984.