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7 Killed in Clashes Between Turkish Army, Kurdish Rebels - 2004-09-10

Turkish security forces killed four Kurdish rebels and lost three of their own in four days of clashes in the predominantly Kurdish province of Siirt.

Turkish troops backed by attack helicopters battled rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, near the town of Pervari in Siirt. Turkish officials say operations to secure the area are continuing. Over 20 Turkish soldiers and some 60 rebels have reportedly been killed since the PKK, which now calls itself Kongra-Gel, ended a five year truce on June 1.

Clashes between rebels and security forces are concentrated in the provinces of Sirnak, Hakkari, Tunceli and Siirt, but have spilled over in recent weeks to the regional capital, Diyarbakir.

Rights advocacy groups are expressing concerns that the renewed violence may undermine a set of sweeping reforms introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party, aimed at satisfying the Kurds demands for greater cultural autonomy. They include the easing of restrictions on the long-banned Kurdish language. Turkey's government hopes such steps will persuade European Union leaders to decide to launch membership talks with Turkey, as early as next year.

The Kongra-Gel rebels had ended their 15-year-long campaign for an independent Kurdish homeland following the capture of their leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. The conflict claimed over 30,000 lives, most of them Kurdish, and resulted in the displacement of millions of Kurdish civilians.

Kongra-Gel leaders, based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, said they ended their cease-fire because of the Turkish government's refusal to negotiate a lasting peace, and to end the solitary confinement of their leader, Ocalan. Most Kurds oppose the rebels' decision to take up arms against the government.

Ocalan remains the sole inmate of an island prison off the coast of Turkey's commercial capital, Istanbul. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of treason. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, after Turkey's parliament abolished the death penalty in line with EU-oriented reforms.