Turkish troops clash with Kurdish rebels
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish attack helicopters fired rockets at Kurdish rebel positions in mountains near the Iraq border Monday, in one of several clashes between government forces and the guerrillas as Turkey celebrated its 84th anniversary as a republic.Tanks and other military gear paraded through the day and Turks held torchlight marches into the night to mark the day, which comes amid the government’s threat to order a major offensive against rebel bases in northern Iraq.In an address to the nation, President Abdullah Gul pledged to remain resolute in the fight against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK – a war that has been going on since 1984 and has seen nearly 40,000 people killed.”The struggle that we have been leading for a long time, as a nation, against this terrorism curse is now being led with more determination,” he said.Gul joined Turkey’s military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, in an open Cadillac for the main parade in Ankara, following behind a ceremonial cavalry troop as fighter jets flew in formation overhead. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials watched from the stands.In Istanbul, dozens of tanks, howitzers and other armored vehicles paraded past saluting commanders and cheering citizens waving flags.Crowds in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, voiced support for the government, chanting: “The country cannot be divided!”Following the attack by three Cobra attack helicopters on Mount Cudi, in Sirnak province near the border with northern Iraq, plumes of smoke rose from the hills. Muzzle flashes could be seen coming from the target area as rebels fired back, according to an Associated Press Television News cameraman at the scene.The fight continued into the evening, with red tracer bullets streaking across the sky.After the strike by the Cobras, transport helicopters flew toward the area, apparently ferrying commandos to the fight. APTN also saw a convoy of some 40 military trucks approaching in the evening, likely bringing in more soldiers.One Turkish soldier was killed in that clash, the private Dogan news agency said, without citing its sources.To the east of Mount Cudi in neighboring Hakkari province, government troops reported trapping about 100 separatist Kurdish rebels by blocking escape routes across the border into Iraq, the state-run news agency Anatolia said. It said the guerrillas were hiding in caves.A Kurdish rebel spokesman disputed any fighters were surrounded. “There was no fighting in this area between the PKK and the Turkish army,” Abdul-Rahman al-Chaderchi told The Associated Press by telephone. “Such allegations are part of the Turkish propaganda against the PKK.”To the northwest, away from the border, a Turkish soldier was killed in Tunceli province by a land mine believed to have been planted by the rebels, officials said.The soldier was part of an operation that began Sunday in which some 8,000 soldiers are scouring a central area of the province for PKK guerrillas, the Dogan news agency said. Seventeen rebels have been killed in the operation – 15 on Sunday and two on Monday, Dogan said.Another clash erupted between PKK rebels and Turkish troops near the town of Genc in neighboring Bingol province, the Anatolia news agency said.PKK fighters have killed at least 44 people the past month, according to government and media reports. Those casualties include about 30 Turkish soldiers slain in two ambushes that increased public demands for Turkey to act, including attacking rebel havens in Iraq.The government is demanding that Iraq extradite PKK leaders in northern Iraq, and has warned that its troops will cross the border to hunt down the rebels unless U.S. and Iraqi forces move against the separatist bases soon.Washington is pressuring Turkey, a longtime ally, not to invade. The U.S. worries that an incursion would bring chaos to one of the few relatively peaceful and stable regions in Iraq, distracting the military campaign against insurgents in other areas.Talks on Friday in Ankara between Turkish and Iraqi officials ended unsuccessfully after Turkey said the Iraqi government’s proposals were too long-term. The Turks said immediate action was needed.In Baghdad on Monday, Barham Saleh, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Kurdish deputy, said the proposals were “still on the table.” He warned that any unilateral Turkish military action would violate Iraq’s sovereignty and threaten the stability of both countries.”The best way is to work together to deal with this problem,” he told APTN in an interview. “And both governments together with the coalition need to find ways and means by which we deal with it and assure the security of the borders.”The Iraqi delegation suggested putting U.S. monitors in the border region, reinforcing border posts and setting up new ones to prevent illegal crossings and reviving a negotiation process among Iraq, Turkey and the U.S. that stalled earlier this year.—Associated Press writer Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, contributed to this report.