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Turkish military says Kurdish rebel attacks increasing

By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
  • Turkish military says Kurdish rebel attacks have intensified
  • General: PKK aimed to 'expand its activities to the whole of Turkey'
  • PKK have operated out of camps in the remote mountains of Northern Iraq

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey is experiencing an increasingly bloody summer of fighting as Kurdish rebels have intensified the frequency and range of their attacks, the Turkish military says.

During an unusually detailed press conference, a top Turkish general announced on Friday that at least 43 Turkish security forces were killed in clashes with Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since the beginning of March.

Meanwhile, Gen. Fahri Kir, the military's commander of domestic security operations, claimed 130 PKK guerrillas had been killed during the same period. He cited one series of airstrikes carried out against rebel targets across the border in Iraq on May 20th, which he claimed killed nearly 100 PKK fighters.

The PKK have long operated out of camps in the remote mountains of Northern Iraq. On Wednesday, the Turkish military announced it sent hundreds of troops across the border some 2-3 kilometers into Iraqi territory in pursuit of rebel fighters. The ground incursion was followed up by a series of air-strikes.

Washington, which officially labels the PKK a "terrorist organization," assists its NATO ally Turkey with cross border military attacks. Since 2007, the United States has shared intelligence information on the rebels, presumably from surveillance aircraft flying over Northern Iraq.

Spokesmen for the PKK could not be reached for comment.

However, a pro-PKK web-site issued a warning in broken English this week, from a break-away faction of the rebel movement, cautioning foreign tourists not to travel to Turkey.

"Your holidays [and] entertainments return guns, bullets, bombs to Kurdish people and cause deaths. All of [the] holiday areas in Turkey are attack and revengeful areas for us. It is the time of action and we will not hesitate to do what is necessary," said the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, in a statement dated June 17 on the Firat News Agency web-site.

Kurdish rebels have staged increasingly bold attacks on Turkish security forces in recent months. Thursday night, rebels clashed for hours with Turkish army units in the Black Sea province of Gumushane, far out of southeastern, predominantly Kurdish Turkey, the traditional zone of operations for the Kurdish fighters.

The rebels claim to have also mounted road-blocks in a clear effort to flout the Turkish government's authority in the country side.

In a statement on a PKK web-site, the group said its fighters stopped vehicles and checked passenger ID's for hours at a check-point in Turkey's turbulent Tunceli province on June 14.

Kir said the PKK aimed to "expand its activities to the whole of Turkey" to further destabilize the country.

The PKK has been battling the Turkish government since the early 1980s. Initially, the movement fought to carve out a separate homeland for Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority, which makes up nearly 18 percent of the Turkish population, according to the CIA World Factbook. More then 30,000 people, mostly ethnic Kurds, have been killed during the conflict. In recent years, the rebels say they have given up these demands, and are instead fighting for more linguistic and cultural freedoms. Though the Kurds represent Turkey's largest ethnic minority, their language has historically been suppressed by the Turkish state, which long referred to Kurds as "mountain Turks."

The upsurge in fighting threatens a recent, much-heralded Turkish government initiative aimed at improving relations with the Kurds. The so-called "democratic opening" included the creation of a Kurdish language state TV station and pledges to allow "Kurdish studies" for the first time in Turkey at the university level.