September 2, 2015 / 9:25 AM / in 2 years

Turkish jets target PKK, state media says 20 militants killed

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) positions in southeast Turkey on Wednesday after one soldier was killed in the area, the army said, and state media reported 20 militants were killed in the air strikes.

Clashes between Turkish troops and the militants, who have bases in the mountains of nearby northern Iraq, have become a daily occurrence since a two-year-old ceasefire fell apart last month, leaving peace negotiations in tatters.

PKK fighters armed with rifles opened fire on troops conducting early-morning searches on a road in the Semdinli district of Hakkari province near the borders with Iran and Iraq, the general staff said on its website.

In the ensuing clash, one soldier was killed and two were wounded. Two F-16 jets then destroyed nearby PKK positions and attack helicopters, drones and more troops were sent in as reinforcement.

State-run Anadolu Agency said 20 PKK fighters were killed in the air strikes.

Some 70 members of Turkey's security forces have been killed since PKK attacks began in early July. Anadolu says more than 900 PKK militants have been killed in southeast Turkey and in Iraq since July 22.

The fighting has recalled the height of the conflict in the 1990s and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that Turkish police had engaged in severe ill-treatment and abuse of detainees while responding to perceived security threats.

"It is deeply worrying that police in Turkey's southeast seem to be returning to abusive tactics," HRW's Europe and Central Asia division deputy director, Benjamin Ward, said.

Jail facilities appeared strained in Diyarbakir, the largest southeastern city, with security sources saying 194 inmates were transferred to Black Sea prisons in the last two days due to overcrowding.

Three journalists two British and one Iraqi, working for the online news channel Vice News were transferred from Diyarbakir to a jail in the southern city of Adana, their lawyer said. They were charged on Monday with links to a terrorist organization, days after they were detained while reporting from the region.

"This move appears to be a blatant obstruction of the fair legal process that Turkey has repeatedly pledged to uphold. We call on the Turkish government to throw out these ridiculous charges and immediately release our colleagues," Vice's head of news programming in Europe Kevin Sutcliffe said in a statement.

The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms in 1984, and more than 40,000 people have since been killed.

The violence had halted after Ankara began talks with the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012.

There appeared to be progress towards a peace deal, but it was undermined before June's parliamentary election by domestic politics and Kurdish involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Additional reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Louise Ireland

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