Soldier killed in mine explosion as Turkish forces chase with rebels in southeast


By SUZAN FRASER, AP

ANKARA, Turkey — Government troops trapped a group of about 100 separatist Kurdish rebels in a rugged region close to Turkey’s border with Iraq, after blocking all escape routes across the frontier, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Monday.

To the northwest, a soldier was killed after stepping on a land mine believed to have been planted by the rebels in Tunceli province, where the military was waging a separate operation against guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the local governor’s office said.

The official Anatolia news agency said troops – which have been shelling mountain passages used by the rebels to escape to bases in Iraq – trapped the group of rebels in the Ikiyaka mountains in Hakkari province that borders Iraq, forcing them to hide in caves.

The military was pressing on with land and air operations in the area, the agency said. Troops, backed by attack helicopters, were also pursuing rebels in Sirnak province, which also borders Iraq, Anatolia reported.

The reports could not immediately be independently verified.

On Sunday, attack helicopters buzzed over a hilly region in Tunceli looking for PKK rebels after troops reportedly killed 15 separatist guerrillas in a morning operation. Tunceli is far removed from the border with Iraq where most recent clashes have broken out.

PKK fighters have killed at least 43 people in the past month. Those casualties included some 30 Turkish soldiers in two ambushes that were the boldest attacks in years – increasing domestic pressure on Turkey’s prime minister to act.

In Washington, Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy said the PKK rebels had camped along the Turkish border in five places from where they were conducting their hit-and-run attacks.

He said his country was willing to “employ and exhaust all the diplomatic possibilities and peaceful possibilities” but that it would use military force if needed, despite pressure from the United States, Iraq and other countries to refrain from a cross-border attack.

“They cannot expect Turkey to sit idly by to see that the Turkish population is being slaughtered by the PKK,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”