SILOPI, Turkey (Reuters) - Five people were killed in eastern Turkey on Friday in a series of clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants, part of a surge in violence that has put further strain on a fragile peace process between Ankara and the rebels.
Three people were killed and seven wounded during clashes between police and militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the town of Silopi in Sirnak province, close to Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq, authorities said.
In two other separate incidents in Van and Agri provinces, the militants killed two soldiers, bringing the death toll among Turkish security forces since July 20 to at least 21.
Violence has swept eastern Turkey since last month when the outlawed PKK ramped up attacks on security forces and Ankara launched reciprocal air strikes against the militants in Turkey and northern Iraq.
The provincial governor’s office in Silopi said PKK militants had dug trenches and erected barricades across the town and that they had then attacked security forces with rockets, handmade explosives and rifles at 5:30 am (0330 British time).
The statement said a 17-year-old youth and a 58-year-old man were among those killed and that operations were still continuing.
Sporadic gunfire rang out and smoke billowed into the sky, Reuters TV footage showed. Armoured jeeps and water cannon vehicles patrolled the streets as masked youths looked on from street corners.
Two police officers were among the wounded, the governor’s office said.
A lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, Faysal Sariyildiz, told reporters the casualties were civilians and that he had seen no sign of armed militants, contradicting official accounts.
Hundreds of police backed up by armoured vehicles had tried to enter the town and had opened fire on local people, he said.
“The police must withdraw immediately and tension must be lowered,” Sariyildiz said. “We are concerned that the number of dead and wounded will rise. If that happens it will spread to other cities across the country.”
The upsurge in clashes comes at a time of political uncertainty in Turkey, where efforts to forge a coalition government after an inconclusive June election have yet to yield fruit and with a snap election emerging as a possibility.
The PKK announced it was stepping up attacks in mid-July over what it said were ceasefire violations by Turkish forces.
Violence has worsened since Turkey began an air campaign against PKK camps in northern Iraq on July 24, in what Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called a “synchronised fight against terror”. Turkish jets have also hit Islamic State positions in Syria and Ankara has allowed the U.S.-led coalition targeting the IS militants to use its air bases to launch further raids.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Ankara launched the peace process with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in late 2012.
Reporting by Reuters TV and Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir Writing by Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones