Kurdish rebel attack kills Turkish soldiers

Turkish soldiers at a funeral in Istanbul on 15 August bear the coffin of a comrade killed in a PKK attack two days earlier
Image caption An ambush at the weekend killed three soldiers

Nine Turkish soldiers have been killed and 14 injured in an attack by Kurdish separatist militants in Hakkari province, close to the Iraqi border.

Officials and Turkish media said the troops died after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb or mine. There were also reports of a shoot-out.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said they had carried out the attack.

Turkey responded with air strikes on a number of PKK targets in northern Iraq late on Wednesday.

War planes struck PKK bases in the Zap and Qandil regions, Turkey's NTV and PKK rebels reported.

There were no details on casualties from the strikes.

Strategy questions

There has been an increase in rebel attacks this summer, casting doubt on the chances of peace talks.

Security sources told Reuters news agency that the cause of the latest deaths had been a remote-controlled explosive device. AFP news agency reported two separate mine blasts.

The attack occurred in the district of Cukurca, and officials said military reinforcements were being deployed to the area.

"They [the rebels] are testing our patience. We'll retaliate in kind," Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz was quoted as saying.

AFP news agency quoted Doldar Hammo, a PKK spokesman, as saying his group had carried out the ambush. Fighting had continued for two hours, he added.

The attack will add to pressure on the government to devise a more effective strategy for combating the PKK, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Istanbul.

The government has already said it will ask the police to play a bigger role in counter-insurgency, he says, but this idea has been challenged by critics who argue that the police are no better equipped to tackle the PKK than the army is.

The government had said it was planning more cross-border operations into northern Iraq, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning recently of tougher action against Kurdish rebels.

Our correspondent says there is little talk now of renewing the so-called "democratic opening", an initiative from two year ago, which aimed to end the conflict in the south-east by expanding the rights of the Kurdish minority.

The PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US, has waged a 26-year insurgency against the Turkish state.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the violence.

On Saturday, three soldiers were killed in a PKK ambush in eastern Turkey while last month, 13 soldiers and seven Kurdish rebels were killed in the deadliest clash in three years.

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