DIYARBAKIR (Reuters)–Two Turkish soldiers and 12 Kurdish militants were killed during a clash in a mountainous part of Turkey’s troubled southeast–officials said on Wednesday.
The clash–on Tuesday evening in the Sirnak province near the Iraqi border–coincides with increased tensions in the mainly Kurdish region after recent street battles between protesters and security forces.
The Sirnak governor’s office said in a statement that the 12 Kurds who lost their lives–members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–refused an army demand to lay down their weapons and opened fire on the troops–killing two sergeants.
The slain PKK members included two women.
Troops also discovered and destroyed PKK hideouts containing explosive materials–the statement said.
Military operations in the area–backed up by helicopter gunships–are continuing–it added.
Tuesday’s clash was the latest in a string of incidents–which have sparked fears of a return to the kind of large-scale violence that dogged Turkey’s southeast in the 1980s and 1990s.
That violence–in which more than 30,000 people were killed–tapered off following the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. But it has picked up again since the PKK called off a unilateral ceasefire in 2004.
Last week–security forces killed six PKK members in the southeast. On Monday–a Turkish soldier was killed by a remote-controlled mine in the region.
Sixteen people were killed and many more injured during recent street battles between PKK supporters and the security forces in Diyarbakir and other cities across the southeast.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan discussed the situation with lawmakers from the region on Tuesday evening–but Turkish media said he rejected a call for a general amnesty for PKK members.
Erdogan also said he would not talk with leaders of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) because they would not denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The European Union and the United States have put the PKK on their terrorism blacklist.
But following the recent street violence–the EU–which Turkey aspires to join–has also stepped up its deman’s for Ankara to improve the economic conditions and cultural rights of its Kurdish citizens.