Kurdish rebels ambushed a Turkish commando unit overnight, killing four soldiers and wounding one in southeastern Turkey as the rebel command threatened to escalate the violence across the country, reports said Sunday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of Washington’s most important Muslim allies, said in an interview Friday he would urge President Bush to root out bases of Kurdish guerrillas infiltrating into Turkey from northern Iraq.
The increasing violence could threaten the economy of Turkey, which says it has spent about $100 billion fighting the rebels since 1984. It also could make it harder for the government, under pressure from the European Union, to improve the cultural rights and freedoms of its restive Kurdish population.
The rebels opened fire on a small unit of Turkish commandos patrolling the rugged area near the village of Cicekli in Tunceli province. Four soldiers – including a sergeant, corporal and two privates – were killed, while one person was wounded, local officials said. The troops pursued the guerrillas from the air with warplanes and attack helicopters, the Anatolia news agency said.
The overnight attack coincided with a warning from the rebel command to escalate the fight if the army maintained its military drive, the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper reported Sunday.
“These (military) operations lead the violence to increase and expand to a wider area. This will inevitably not only affect the region but Turkey more strongly,” the newspaper quoted rebel commander Bahoz Erdal as saying.
Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, declared a unilateral cease-fire in 1999 after the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The rebels broke the truce last year, saying the Turkish government had not responded in kind.
Turkey refuses to negotiate with the rebels, whom it calls terrorists. The rebel group also is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU.
Turkey is now demanding that U.S. and Iraqi officials crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels who, for more than a decade, have taken advantage of instability in Iraq to run their rebellion from hideouts in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq.
More than 37,000 people have died in the conflict since 1984.