DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish troops and Kurdish militants clashed in southeast Turkey on Saturday in an escalation of violence which killed 11 soldiers and 12 rebels.
The battle at Semdinli in Hakkari province, near the border with Iraq, re-kindled the conflict in the region and prompted the armed forces to hit Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets inside northern Iraq.
The PKK militants touched off the fighting with an attack on an army border unit at about 2 a.m. (2300 GMT). Nine soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in the attack, the General Staff said on its website. Two other soldiers were killed by a land mine.
“Reinforcements were sent to the region and throughout the night support was provided to the conflict zone by attack helicopters and artillery. Separately, the Air Force struck targets identified in the northern region of Iraq,” it said.
The general staff gave the PKK death toll as 12. PKK fighters were not available to comment.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our fight will continue until the terrorist organisation has been annihilated.”
State-run Anatolian news agency said Erdogan would travel to Van in southeast Turkey on Sunday to attend a ceremony for the dead soldiers.
Far-right MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said Erdogan was the architect of the current situation. He called for a meeting on Monday of the National Security Council and the re-introduction of a state of emergency in southeast Turkey, which ended in 2002, when Erdogan’s AK Party came to power.
The military warned on Friday the PKK might intensify its operations over the summer, when warmer weather brings increased infiltration of PKK guerrillas from the mountains of northern Iraq. Several thousand rebels are based there.
Military sources said PKK militants armed with rifles opened fire on a police patrol car from a hill overlooking the road between Hakkari and Cukurca on Saturday evening.
Police reinforcements and helicopters were sent to the area. There was no immediate report on casualties.
Witnesses said two F-16 warplanes took off from a military airbase in the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Saturday evening. It was not clear where they were heading.
The military told a press briefing it had killed some 130 militants in the last four months -- mostly in an air raid on northern Iraq. Forty-three security personnel were killed in the period.
PKK activity generally takes the form of remote-controlled bomb attacks on military convoys, raids on small military outposts and firefights in the mountains of southeast Turkey.
The PKK, branded terrorists by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, said this month they had scrapped a year-old unilateral ceasefire and resumed attacks against Turkish forces because of military operations against them.
The ceasefire had come as Erdogan’s government worked on plans to boost Kurdish rights to help end the conflict.
However, the process has faltered and it suffered a setback in December when the Constitutional Court banned the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) on charges of links to the PKK.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in the country’s southeast.
The rebels say they now want greater rights and autonomy for Turkey’s estimated 12-15 million Kurds.
Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Peter Graff