Turkey Weighs Escalation of Fight Against Kurdish Rebels

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Turkey said Sunday that it was weighing an escalation of its fight against Kurdish rebels after the guerillas killed seven Turkish soldiers and a village guard.

Turkish officials said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which wants autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast, launched the deadly ambush from neighboring northern Iraq Saturday. The assault, and a fatal attack on a police officer Sunday, drove the number of Turks the PKK has killed since Thursday to 14.

CountryWatch: Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed outrage, signaling that Turkey could step up its battle against the rebel group. And high-ranking military, civilian, police and intelligence officials held an emergency meeting of Turkey's High Anti-Terrorism Council to discuss possible new measures against the guerrillas.

Five Turkish soldiers were killed Thursday when their vehicle hit a land mine in Bingol province. Four soldiers were wounded. The guerrillas also gunned down a policeman and two noncommissioned officers in separate attacks in southeast Turkey.

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

Turkey and Iran — which fear Kurdish aspirations of a homeland encompassing pieces of Iraq, Iran and Turkey — have massed thousands of additional troops on their borders with Iraq in recent months to prevent rebel infiltration. Iran has shelled rebel hideouts in Iraq.

Turkish troops backed by helicopter gunships were pursuing guerillas Sunday in the rugged region near the ambush site. The U.S.-made Cobra helicopters pounded suspected rebel hideouts, while Turkish commandos were airlifted to strategic points along the Iraqi border to surround the guerrillas, the private Dogan news agency said.

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

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 called a unilateral cease-fire after the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, but resumed fighting in 2004.

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

Turkey has been trying to improve its treatment of Turkish Kurds under pressure from the EU and has granted more cultural rights, such as the right to broadcast in the once-banned Kurdish language.

Turkey has been keeping some 2,000 troops, backed by tanks, in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq to monitor the rebel activities there since 1997.

In other violence in Bingol province Sunday, Turkish troops killed a Kurdish rebel and Kurdish guerrillas attacked a military outpost, wounding a soldier, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.