Six Kurdish rebels and six policemen have been killed during a massive operation targeting PKK militants in southeastern Turkey, security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Backed by helicopters and fighter jets, thousands of security forces, including police and the army, were participating in the largest anti-rebel operation so far this year which began on Tuesday, they said.
The clashes were still continuing Thursday on the outskirts of Mount Cudi in Sirnak province, near the Syrian and Iraqi border, AFP reported.
Special police forces have lately played a much bigger role in the fight against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a task mostly handled by soldiers in the past.
The operation is the biggest since Turkish air strikes killed 34 Kurdish smugglers near the Iraqi border in December when commanders mistook them for PKK fighters.
Most of the victims were less than 20 years old.
The fighting in the mountains flared after thousands of Kurds took to the streets of the mainly Kurdish southeast and big cities elsewhere in Turkey for unauthorized demonstrations to mark Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, according to Reuters.
Newroz is often an occasion for street protests in Turkey, but violence has escalated this year with tensions fuelled by court investigations of links between Kurdish activists and the PKK which have resulted in thousands of people being detained.
Turkey in October launched a major air and land offensive against the rebels in the southeast of the country and in northern Iraq after 24 of its troops were killed in a night-time ambush by rebels.
In recent months, the government has also intensified pressure on alleged sympathizers of Kurdish separatist rebels.
The drive is part of a crackdown on the banned Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), suspected to be the political wing of the PKK.
Turkish authorities accuse the group of trying to topple state institutions in the south and southeast and trying to foment a rebellion.
Since 2009, about 700 people -- including lawmakers, intellectuals and mayors -- have been arrested for alleged links to the KCK, according to the government. Kurdish sources however put the number at around 3,500.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and by much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.