ANKARA (AFP) – Thirteen people died in Turkey’s volatile southeast when gunmen, apparently Kurdish rebels, sprayed a bus with machine gun fire, prompting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday to vow to punish the attackers.
Saturday’s audacious attack came a day after Turkey and Iraq signed an agreement to crack down on Turkish Kurd rebels based in northern Iraq and the killing of a Kurdish separatist in the Kurdish-dominated east.
“Terrorists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) used machine gun fire on a minibus carrying 14 people, killing 13,” local governor Selahattin Apari said Sunday on the NTV television channel.
The incident occurred near the town of Beytussebab in Sirnak province not far from the Iraqi border, he said, adding that the dead included a seven-year-old boy.
The victims also included a local village chieftain and his four sons who were all members of the Village Guards.
The Guards are a Kurdish paramilitary unit armed by Ankara to protect villages in the southeast of the country from attacks by rebels of the outlawed PKK, whose 23-year-old war for independence has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Two others injured in the attack were in hospital in serious condition, officials said, as security forces launched a manhunt for the attackers.
Prime Minister Erdogan on Sunday condemned the “cowardly attack,” saying it “will not remain unpunished”.
“Our determination to fight the terrorists will continue,” he said, adding that the resurgence in attacks was a sign of the PKK’s “distress” at an army crackdown on its members.
The mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper Sunday blasted the attack while taking a swipe at the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which brands the PKK an organisation of “youth of the mountains.”
“Here are the murderers that you call the youth of the mountains,” the newspaper sneered.
The attack is the worst in years and is a throwback to incidents of a similar scale staged at the start of the insurgency more than two decades ago.
On Friday, Ankara and Baghdad inked a landmark pact to combat Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq but Turkey failed to secure a right for cross-border military operations.
Turkey says the separatist PKK enjoys free movement in northern Iraq, where it has long taken refuge, and obtains weapons and explosives there for attacks across the border.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and much of the international community. Ankara says the PKK is backed by Iraqi Kurds, who have been Washington’s ally in the campaign against Saddam Hussein.
The deal envisages judicial cooperation against terrorist groups as well as the capture of their members and their prosecution or extradition. Turkish and Iraqi officials will also meet every six months to assess progress.
Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Turkey carried out incursions into northern Iraq, but with the consent of the Iraqi Kurds.
Their relations however have nosedived since then amid Turkish suspicions that Iraqi Kurds are seeking to form their own state, emboldening the PKK’s separatist campaign.
On Friday, Turkish forces also gunned down a Kurdish rebel in the mountainous region of Tunceli, a day after three soldiers were injured in a landmine blast in the restive frontier region bordering Iraq.