Mine blast kills six Turkish soldiers

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The Independent Online

A remote-controlled mine killed six Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 in the mainly Kurdish southeast, officials said today, and Turkish jets hit PKK rebels based in northern Iraq.

Local government officials blamed the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the mine blast which struck a military vehicle in Hakkari province near the Iraqi and Iranian borders late yesterday.

The Turkish air force frequently carries out operations against PKK bases in northern Iraq from where the guerrilla group launches attacks on Turkey as part of their 35-year military campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

"A big terrorist group of the PKK was located at a site near our border in Avasin-Baysan region in northern Iraq. It came under fire and was successfully hit by the fighter jets of Turkish Air Forces," the Turkish general staff said in a statement on its website.

Turkish troops, backed by helicopters, pursued PKK rebels near the Iraqi border, officials said.

Police also detained 35 people for their suspected ties to Kurdish rebels in raids across Turkey.

The country's only legal Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which is suspected of having ties with the PKK, said it was sorry for the soldiers' deaths. It called on the military and the guerrillas to stop the violence.

"We say it very clearly: Those who want a democratic solution should definitely take their fingers off the trigger," DTP's head Ahmet Turk said in a statement.

The DTP has been criticised for not labelling the PKK a terrorist organistation as Washington and the European Union do.

But Turk's swift condolences suggest the DTP does not want to undermine political efforts aimed at ending the conflict in which some 40,000 people have been killed.

The government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has expanded cultural and political rights to minority Kurds who have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Turkish state.

While rejecting a general amnesty for PKK guerrillas, the military has taken a more conciliatory tone and admits military might alone will not end the violence.

The PKK's senior commander, Murat Karayilan, has said in recent interviews the group no longer sought an independent Kurdish state, but recognition of Kurdish rights and identity.

The separatist conflict in the impoverished mainly Kurdish southeast has negatively weighed on Turkey's economic development and is a hindrance to Ankara's European Union membership aspirations.

The 35 people detained on Thursday included teachers and union members and were held after raids in five Turkish provinces on Thursday, state-run Anatolian news agency said.