ANKARA, Turkey - A clash in a forest left 13 Turkish soldiers and seven Kurdish rebels dead yesterday in the country’s rugged southeast, the military said. The rare daylight violence was the deadliest attack on troops in more than three years.
In response, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held an emergency meeting in the capital of Ankara with top military and intelligence officials. Top army commanders and senior Cabinet members were sent to the southeast to assess the situation, Turkish media reported.
The attack is expected to escalate tensions in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, where frequent clashes and violent protests have undercut reconciliation efforts.
Hours after the clash, an umbrella group that includes Turkey’s Kurdish party proclaimed Kurdish autonomy in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast. It was unclear what practical effect such a declaration would have, although the Turkish government has repeatedly warned against such a move, which it views as a threat to national unity.
Kurdish rebels periodically cross the border from Iraq to stage attacks in their war for autonomy for Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Aysel Tugluk, a Kurdish lawmaker and cochairman of the Democratic Society Congress, said the autonomy announcement was made on the basis of democracy and that the Kurdish people remained committed to “the national unity of Turkey’s people.’’
He insisted that Kurds were not seeking to break away from Turkish sovereignty but to have their own administration and assembly.
In Washington, the Obama administration expressed condolences to the families of soldiers killed in clashes and voiced solidarity with its NATO ally.