Turkey kills 15 Kurds in clashes


Turkish troops killed 15 Kurdish guerrillas in fighting today as tensions mount over a threatened Turkish invasion of northern Iraq.

The clash occurred in the mainly Kurdish province of Tunceli. The governor's office for Tunceli confirmed there was fighting in the province but would not confirm casualty figures. The private Dogan news agency reported the deaths of 15 rebels.

The government-run Anatolia news agency said the fighting began this morning and the Turkish troops were backed by helicopter gunships. Security forces shut down a major highway leading to Pulumur, it said. It did not mention casualties.

Tunceli is some 340 miles northeast of the province of Sirnak and 400 miles northeast from Hakkari, the province where most of the recent fighting with the rebels have taken place. Sirnak and Hakkari border Iraq.

"As long as we are firmly bound together, the treacherous separatist terrorist attacks will never reach their goal," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a message ahead of Oct. 29 celebrations marking the 84th anniversary of the Turkish republic.

"I want to declare this one more time: The struggle we lead against the separatist terrorism that aims to destroy our unity and our constitutional order will continue with belief and determination," he said.

Kurds make up an estimated 30 per cent of the Turkish population, and are located mostly in Turkey's relatively poor southeastern region, near the borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Turkey does not consider the Kurds to be a distinct ethnic group and therefore does not grant them minority rights. Turkey's Kurds have long claimed discrimination and demanded increased cultural rights. Speaking Kurdish was illegal in Turkey until 1991.

The conflict dates back to 1984 but clashes between government forces and guerrilla fighters have been escalating since the rebels broke a cease-fire in 2004.

Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, fighters have killed at least 42 people in the past month. Those casualties included some 30 Turkish soldiers in two ambushes that were the boldest attacks in years.

There is increased anger toward the PKK in Turkey, and tens of thousands of Turks have staged street protests in several Turkish cities condemning the guerrillas and pushing for action since last Sunday, when 12 soldiers were killed in a Kurdish rebel ambush. The PKK said it was holding eight other soldiers captive.