Turkey Says Kurds Hit Two Helicopters
ANKARA, June 6 (Reuter) - A Turkish military spokesman said on Friday that Kurdish rebels had used sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down two army helicopters on a mission in northern Iraq.
General Erol Ozkasnak said the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels had for the first time gained access to such weaponry, from countries which Turkey accuses of supporting the rebels. "This is the first time two of our helicopters have been shot down," Ozkasnak told reporters at a news conference broadcast on live television.
Ozkasnak said the separatist PKK rebels had used SA-7 missiles to bring down a Cougar troop carrier, with 11 officers and soldiers on board, earlier this week, and a second, smaller Super-Cobra attack helicopter on May 18. His comments marked the first public confirmation by the military of PKK claims they had successfully deployed mobile anti-aircraft missiles against Turkish forces. "Since 1992, the PKK has wanted to get hold of SA-7 missiles...We have informed the foreign ministry five times that primarily the governments of Iran, Syria, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus have been providing the terrorist organization with these weapons," Ozkasnak. "This is a serious danger to the Turkish armed forces." Ozkasnak, the military headquarters general secretary, said the rebels were believed to have some 50-60 of the Russian-made weapons in the northern Iraq region.
Thousands of Turkish troops, backed by air power, poured into northern Iraq on May 14 in a big cross-border operation against bases of the PKK, fighting for independence or autonomy in southeast Turkey.
The military spokesman said 2.252 guerrillas had been killed in the operation and an array of armaments captured. Ninety-five Turkish security force members have been killed and 244 wounded, he said. The rebels put losses by the army and its Iraqi Kurd allies at almost 800 men. The PKK has ordered 2.500 guerrillas to head for the mountainous border areas from the Arbil region of northern Iraq, Syria, Iran and Europe, according to Ozkasnak. He said the operation would continue until the rebel presence in the region was destroyed.
The incursion has been conducted under a news blackout, making independent confirmation of reports impossible. The operation has attracted condemnation from the Arab League secretariat and a demand that Turkish forces withdraw immediately. Some of NATO-member Turkey's Western allies and the United Nations secretary-general have criticized the operation. Security officials said on Friday the Turkish armed forces killed 27 PKK rebels in separate clashes in eastern Turkey. It did not say when the clashes took place.
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The emergency rule governor's office in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir said the guerrillas were killed in fighting in the provinces of Van, Bingol, Sirnak and Tunceli. More than 24,000 people have died in 13 years of conflict between the security forces and the rebels.
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