ANKARA (Reuters) - Saboteurs attacked a pipeline carrying natural gas from Iran to Turkey in Turkey’s eastern province of Agri late on Monday, halting the flow, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and state gas company Botas said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmark of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose camps in northern Iraq have been bombed by the Turkish air force in recent days and which has struck the pipeline before.
“An explosion occurred as a result of sabotage about 15 kilometers inside the Turkish border on the Turkey-Iran gas pipeline,” Yildiz said in a statement.
The blast caused a fire which was swiftly put out, he said.
The pipeline, which carries around 10 billion cubic meters of Iranian gas to Turkey annually, frequently came under attack by Kurdish militants during the 1990s and up until 2013, when a ceasefire was established.
A Botas official said repairs were under way but it was not clear when the gas flow would resume.
Turkey buys around a quarter of its 40 billion cubic meters of piped natural gas imports from Iran, making its eastern neighbor its second-biggest supplier after Russia. Natural gas is used for almost half of its electricity generation.
The temporary end to hostilities with the PKK, which has pushed demands for greater Kurdish rights, was part of a peace process initiated by then Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to end a three-decade insurgency that has killed more than 40,000.
But Turkey launched air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq last week, part of what it has cast as a “war on terrorist groups” which has also included bombing Islamic State militants in northern Syria.
The PKK has said the military campaign renders the ceasefire meaningless, but has so far stopped short of calling it off.
Armed attacks on police and gendarmerie in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast, crisscrossed by several energy pipelines, have sharply increased since last week.
On Monday, a gendarmerie officer in the eastern province of Mus died after being shot by suspected PKK militants. In the eastern border province of Van a military unit was attacked by armed gunmen.
The Botas official said Turkey had not requested additional gas from other countries as a result of the explosion as there was no shortage in meeting domestic demand.
“All precautions have been taken to make sure the natural gas demand is met,” Yildiz said.
Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Dale Hudson