Fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, killed at least seven Turkish soldiers in clashes in eastern Turkey, triggering renewed sparring between the government and the opposition over anti-terrorism policies.
Troops and Kurdish militants were still fighting today in the region around Kavusak village in Hakkari province where six soldiers were killed, according to the state news agency Anatolia. Television channels reported a military mobilization in the mountainous region and helicopter ambulances landing at local hospitals.
A seventh soldier was killed in the southeastern city of Van, and Turkish forces backed by aircraft began sweeping the area.
The fighting is the latest outbreak in a two-month-old upsurge in violence that has piled pressure on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his policies on terrorism and development in Turkey’s poorer Kurdish regions. Opposition parties have attacked Erdogan for his so-called Kurdish opening, a program of cultural and economic incentives begun last year. The opposition says the violence shows the policies are flawed.
“We have before us a prime minister who has surrendered to terrorism,” nationalist opposition leader Devlet Bahceli said in a speech in Ankara today.
Erdogan’s initiatives have included allowing television broadcasts in the Kurdish language, the use of which was restricted by law before his party came to power in 2002, as well as increased investment in the southeast in an effort to weaken PKK recruitment and end the conflict.
Some 40,000 people, most of them Kurds, have died in fighting over the past 26 years since the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state.
Erdogan says economic issues are at the core of terrorism in Turkey and that he won’t back down from his plan to increase investment in the southeast, where many Kurds live.
“Unemployment is the most important reason for terrorism, and it didn’t start under our government,” the prime minister said in a speech in Ankara today.
He spoke hours before parliament was to begin debating a law that would prevent minors from being tried under anti-terror legislation. The law would apply to young Kurds who have been arrested for throwing stones at soldiers.
Meanwhile, the armed forces are working to establish a corps of professional soldiers so that career troops, and not conscripts, patrol the border with Iraq, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said yesterday in Ankara. The government said it may recall parliament if necessary to form the corps.
The PKK has bases in northern Iraq, and Turkey often strikes the rebels’ positions with jet fighters and helicopters.