TUNCELI, Turkey (Reuters) – Nine Turkish soldiers including a lieutenant colonel were killed on Monday when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device planted by separatist guerrillas, military sources told Reuters.
After what was one of the biggest attacks on the military this year, special forces troops backed by Cobra helicopters searched the area for the rebels behind it, the sources said.
In addition to the nine killed, two soldiers were also wounded in the military vehicle attack on a country road near a bridge in Kemah district in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan province.
The bomb was detonated by remote control, the sources said. Earlier Turkish media had described the device as a landmine.
Several F-16 fighter jets took off in the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir after the ambush but their destination was unclear.
“This attack, which once again shows the ugly face of terrorism, demonstrates plainly how far the terrorists are from human values,” President Abdullah Gul said in a statement.
Erzincan province rarely witnesses separatist conflict but neighboring Tunceli is the scene of frequent clashes between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels and Turkish armed forces.
The PKK claimed responsibility for an explosion last week in Erzincan which damaged the key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and has said it would carry out more attacks on economic targets in Turkey.
However military and local official sources have said the pipeline blast and subsequent fire were due to a technical fault and not sabotage. The pipeline fire was extinguished on Monday, according to a senior source at oil company BP.
The PKK, regarded as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of establishing a Kurdish homeland in the southeast of the country.
Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
In the southern Turkish province of Hatay, which borders Syria, police shot an unidentified man early Monday after a clash outside a special forces police station.
State-run Anatolian news agency said some 12 kg (26 lb) of plastic explosives, equipped with a remote control detonator, were found in a sports bag which the dead man had placed a few meters away from the station’s entrance.