by editor | 15th July 2011 7:19 am
Terrorists killed 13 soldiers and wounded seven others in an ambush that marked the worst attack since the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ended a cease-fire in February.
The state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday that two of the wounded soldiers are in critical condition. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an immediately called a meeting in Ankara with army and intelligence chiefs as well as the interior minister and the head of the paramilitary gendarmerie.
Security forces, backed by warplanes, have launched a hunt for the PKK members responsible in the mountains of Diyarbak?r province. Erdo?an and Chief of General Staff I??k Ko?aner cancelled their programs to attend a meeting with National Intelligence Organization (M?T) head Hakan Fidan at the Prime Ministry to deal with the latest deadly attack.
The General Staff said in a statement on Thursday that a group of Turkish troops, who were carrying out a military operation were attacked by PKK members and involved in a skirmish. It said grenades thrown by the PKK members ignited a fire in the heavily forested area where the clash occurred and 13 soldiers died in the blaze. According to the statement, seven PKK members were also killed and the wounded soldiers were taken to Diyarbak?r Military Hospital.
The pro-PKK F?rat news agency disputed the official version with a report that quoted a witness saying a Turkish warplane had targeted the militants in an air strike which also killed the soldiers positioned nearby. It gave no death toll.
The government dispatched deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozda? and Interior Minister ?dris Naim ?ahin to Diyarbak?r to further investigate the incident. The ministers will travel to Diyarbak?r on Friday.
Recent clashes have been the worst since the PKK ended a six-month ceasefire in February, moving to assume, what it calls, an “active defense” stance, whereby its members defend themselves if threatened. Local authorities in the southeastern city of Diyarbak?r say the ambush took place near the town of Silvan. It is the largest attack on Turkish troops in more than a year.
Tensions are running high between the PKK and the government. In one of the latest attacks on Tuesday, PKK members shelled a gendarmerie command, slightly wounding three soldiers. The PKK also kidnapped two soldiers and a health worker on Saturday night.
PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan said last week through his lawyers that the government and the PKK had established a peace council to work out the Kurdish problem, but the government has denied the claim. The attack also came hours after lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the government failed to reach a consensus to end a boycott of Parliament by the party’s deputies. The lawmakers are protesting court decisions that deny the release of six newly elected BDP deputies from prison. The party’s boycott has contributed to political tensions since June’s parliamentary election.
Erdo?an’s government won a vote of confidence on Wednesday to push ahead with plans to rewrite the Constitution, but the Kurdish boycott remains a hurdle to replacing the Constitution created after the 1980 military coup. And in Diyarbak?r on Thursday, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), a platform that brings together Kurdish non-government organizations, met and declared “democratic autonomy,” though it was unclear what action that might entail.
The PKK has been waging a campaign for autonomy in southeast Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. In May, imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan had warned that his forces would unleash a “big war” by July 15 if Turkey continued to refuse to negotiate for an end to the decades-old conflict following national elections in June.
The latest attack is expected to escalate tensions in the Kurdish-dominated Southeast, where frequent clashes and violent protests have continued amidst reconciliation efforts. Earlier Thursday, the PKK kidnapped two construction workers who were working on a military outpost in the eastern province of Tunceli.
Öcalan remains a powerful symbol for PKK members, who revere him. Turkish leaders have confirmed some communications between state officials and Öcalan seeking a way to end the fight with the autonomy-seeking PKK. But they have refused to negotiate with the organization, which is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and the West.
Separately, security sources said 14 PKK members surrendered to Turkish forces in Silopi, near the border with northern Iraq on Wednesday, allegedly due to maltreatment in their camps. There was no statement on the incidents from the PKK.
While ministers, businessmen and football clubs condemned the attack, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticized the government for being ineffective in the struggle against terrorism. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said it will stand by the government if it chooses to take steps to fight against the PKK.
The BDP, often touted as a staunch PKK supporter, avoided overtly condemning the attack, yet expressed their condolences for the slain soldiers. The pro-Kurdish party also said it is not correct to link the attack to their decision to boycott Parliament. BDP parliamentary group deputy chairman and Hakkari deputy Selahattin Demirta? said after the attack on Thursday that he is “very, very sad” to hear about the incident and expressed his condolences.
Demirta? added, “Every youth we lose because of this [Kurdish problem] and irresponsibility in clashes is a value of this country.”
Claiming that youth are now paying the price for the inability of politicians to solve the problem, Demirta? said the primary responsible falls on politicians who push political channels to creates deadlocks not solutions. “I hope this will be the last [such instance of] suffering. … There is a need to not directly or indirectly link this incident to a process we carry [on with]. I don’t find it correct. We seek solutions, not experiences of such suffering,” Demirta? said.
President Abdullah Gül strongly condemned what he called “the heinous attack,” and said at a time when rights and freedoms are increasing and peace and brotherhood are gaining strength in Turkey, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has unveiled its malicious goals.
Gül vowed that these attacks will not weaken the state or the people’s ability to solve the problem, adding that the effective fight against terrorism will decisively continue in all its dimensions.
Meanwhile, the government dispatched Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozda? and Interior Minister ?dris Naim ?ahin to Diyarbak?r to further investigate the incident.
Erdo?an sent a letter to Ko?aner to express his condolences and said the goal of the forces behind such attacks is obvious, adding that Turkey has the power and determination to overcome terrorism, as well as other matters.
“Turkey, without compromising democracy, the law or brotherhood, will tackle terrorism and the forces behind it. While the suffering of our martyrs wounds our heart, it also strengthens our determination in the fight against terrorism,” Erdo?an said in his letter.
In Washington, the Obama administration expressed condolences to the families of Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with the PKK and voiced solidarity with its NATO ally.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s killing of Turkish soldiers,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “We strongly support Turkey in its fight against terror and we’ll continue to work with the government of Turkey to combat terrorism in all its forms,” he added.
Toner said the US was sharing intelligence information on the PKK members with Turkey.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in ?stanbul ahead of a Friday conference on Libya, expressed her condolences and said she would underscore US commitment to security cooperation with Turkey in her meetings with Turkish leaders.
“We stand with Turkey in its fight against the PKK,” Clinton said in a statement, noting that the PKK is designated as a foreign terrorist group by the United States.
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