Turkish forces kill 80 Kurds in air strikes

Seyhmus Cakan

TURKISH armed forces have killed more than 80 Kurdish militants near the border with Iran and Iraq over the past week, as an offensive involving air strikes and several thousand ground troops intensifies.

Eight F-16 fighter jets took off from an air base in the city of Diyarbakir yesterday, a witness said, apparently to support the operation against militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The governor's office in the southeastern province of Hakkari said in a statement that 75 militants and four Turkish soldiers had been killed since last Saturday.

A further seven militants were killed in clashes triggered by an attack on a military police station in a village near the Iran border.

The past few months have seen some of the heaviest fighting since the PKK -- considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union -- took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state.

The 28-year conflict has killed more than 40,000 people, hampered economic development in one of Turkey's poorest corners, and added to instability in an already fragile region bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.