December 23, 2015 / 2:57 PM / in 2 years

Turkey's southeast hit by more clashes, militants launch bomb attack

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants intensified in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday after a bomb attack on troops there killed one soldier and wounded seven other people, security sources said.

Turkish security forces last week launched an operation in the southeast, backed by tanks and thousands of troops, as President Tayyip Erdogan pledged to root out militants after the AK Party which he co-founded won a November election.

Figures from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) show at least 24 civilians have been killed in fighting, while state media said 168 militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were killed in eight days in six southeastern towns.

PKK militants detonated a bomb by remote control in the Diyarbakir district of Sur, which is under police curfew, killing one soldier and wounding six others, security sources said. One civilian was also wounded.

Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast has been engulfed in renewed clashes since a two-year ceasefire between the PKK and Ankara fell apart in July, bringing back a conflict that has crippled the region for three decades, killing more than 40,000 people.

This time the PKK has shifted fighting from its traditional countryside bases to towns and cities, setting up barricades and digging trenches to keep security forces away, in a battle in which civilians have also become targets.

The government has responded with police curfews and operations but the daily fighting has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes, halted education and reduced buildings and streets to rubble.

The PKK, which launched its insurgency in 1984, is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The focus of the government offensive has been Silopi and Cizre, bordering Iraq and Syria, while Nusaybin and Dargecit in Mardin province near Syria border also saw heavy fighting.

Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested there would be no let-up in the campaign. “A handful of bandits who claim to be defending the people are burning and damaging and terrorizing the region...We haven’t allowed them, we will not do so,” Davutoglu said in Ankara.

He criticized Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party), who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday. The visit is likely to further damage ties between Russia and Turkey, already at a low over the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish air force last month.

Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daren Butler and Richard Balmforth

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