(AFP) – Oct 4, 2008
ANKARA (AFP) — Turkey said Saturday the destruction of separatist Kurdish rebels would take precedence over all other concerns after 15 soldiers and 23 militants died in clashes sparked by a rebel attack near the Iraqi border.
The pledge came after emergency talks, chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss Ankara's response to the bloodiest fighting in Turkey this year.
"Our struggle against terrorism will be pursued under all conditions and above all other concerns through effective cooperation between state bodies and every measure will be implemented with determination," a statement said.
"The abhorrent attacks by (the PKK)... will not be enough to disrupt the unity and integrity of the nation," it added.
Friday's attack prompted calls for Ankara to hit back at Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants who use rear bases in neighbouring northern Iraq to strike Turkish targets as part of a 24-year separatist campaign.
President Abdullah Gul cancelled a planned visit to France next week while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called off a visit to Mongolia and returned home from Turkmenistan to chair Saturday's talks with army and police chiefs and cabinet ministers.
"We are investigating how this treacherous attack took place, who facilitated it. These will be followed up on and everyone will be held to account," Gul said in a video message.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani condemned the attack during a telephone conversation with Gul and called for immediate talks between Turkey, the United States and Iraq to discuss measures against the PKK, Gul's office said in a statement.
Gul told Talabani that Ankara expected Baghdad to take the necessary action against this "international act of terrorism," it added.
The foreign ministry also urged Iraqi authorities to catch the perpetrators of the attack and prevent a repetition, while Iraqi government spokesman Ali called on Ankara to act with "wisdom and restraint."
The European Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the United States embassy in Ankara also denounced the violence.
An army spokesman said that PKK rebels attacked a border post in Semdinli town, Hakkari province, on Friday under cover of heavy weapons fire from northern Iraq, killing 15 soldiers.
Turkish forces responded with artillery fire and attack helicopters pounded rebel positions while additional forces were dispatched to the area.
Turkish fighter jets and artillery units also struck at a group of rebels in the north of Iraq, about 10 kilometers (about six miles) from the station which was attacked.
"Twenty-three terrorists were neutralised in the clashes. It is not yet clear how many terrorists were killed by artillery fire and in the strikes by the air force," General Metin Gurak told the Anatolia news agency.
Two soldiers remained unaccounted for after the fighting while 20 others were wounded.
PKK spokesman Ahmed Danis claimed that Turkish losses were higher.
Anatolia reported that security operations were underway around Semdinli, with attack helicopters firing on possible escape routes of PKK rebels and ground troops exchanging fire with the militants.
Friday's attack came just before the Turkish parliament was set to vote on extending by one year the government's mandate to order military strikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq.
Under a one-year parliamentary authorisation obtained last October, the army has carried out several air strikes and a week-long ground incursion against PKK targets, using intelligence passed on by NATO ally United States.
The current authorisation expires on October 17 and lawmakers are expected to vote on extending the mandate in the coming weeks.
The PKK -- considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union -- has been fighting for a separate state in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey since 1984.
The conflict has claimed some 44,000 lives, according to figures recently released by the Turkish army.
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