Kurdish rebels killed 13 Turkish soldiers Sunday in a clash in the country’s southeast, and troops responded by shelling an area near Iraq to try to stop the rebels from escaping across the border, the military said.
Turkey has been pressing Iraq and the United States to hit the bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, and has considered a unilateral military operation across the border to root out the rebels.
The soldiers were killed in the southeastern province of Sirnak, not far from where troops and rebels clashed two days earlier, a statement on the military’s website said. An operation to track down the rebels was underway, and troops shelled areas near the border to prevent rebels from reaching their bases in northern Iraq, the statement said.
Abdul-Rahman Chadarchi, a spokesman for the Kurdish rebel group, confirmed the attack and said the rebel fighters sustained no casualties.
Kurdish rebels have been staging attacks on Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq. But the U.S. opposes any military move into Iraq by Turkey.
Turkey signed a counter- terrorism pact with Iraq in September and had demanded it be allowed to send its troops to Iraq’s north to pursue the Kurdish rebels. But Iraq, under pressure from the leaders of its semiautonomous Kurdish region, did not agree to the demand.
“This is a Turkish internal problem,” Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the government of Iraq’s Kurdish region, said after Sunday’s attack.
The U.S. and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Its members have fought Turkish government forces since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey’s ethnic Kurds. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives.