ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey’s leaders met Thursday to discuss increasing the military’s powers to combat Kurdish rebels following a surge in attacks, some launched from rebel bases in northern Iraq.
Turkey’s parliament already voted Wednesday to extend the military’s mandate to carry out operations against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, including cross-border ground operations.
But the military has requested increased powers to fight rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Thursday’s meeting was focused on extending the options available to the military and police.
Newspaper reports, citing unnamed officials, said the requests include the right to search and detain suspects without prior authorization and to extend detention periods. Officials did not immediately confirm the reports.
The PKK, branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and EU, has been fighting for autonomy in the southeast since 1984. Tens of thousands of people have been killed since then.
There had been a lull in fighting until last week, when a rebel attack launched from northern Iraq killed 17 Turkish soldiers. The military responded with airstrikes on rebel bases in northern Iraq and ground operations in Turkey that have killed at least 25 rebels.
It was the deadliest battle between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels in eight months.
In the past year, Turkish warplanes and artillery units have pounded rebel hideouts in northern Iraq. In February, ground forces also staged a weeklong incursion into parts of northern Iraq to chase the rebels.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated after the latest fighting that Turkish troops could cross the border again.
Security officials blame the resurgence of rebel attacks on what they call a watering down of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws, pushed by the EU as a requirement of the predominantly Muslim nation’s membership bid. Officials say the changes have been hampering their ability to combat the PKK.
The government has said it will design a solution to safeguard advances made on human rights.
On Wednesday, rebels attacked a police bus in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, killing four policemen and the driver.
The state-run Anatolia news agency reported that police were searching for three suspects, including a rebel known to the security forces, who was identified by fingerprints found on one of the rifles used in the attack. The agency did not cite any sources for the report.
The daylight attack was staged shortly before lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to extend a mandate authorizing the military to stage cross-border raids against the rebels. The current mandate ends Oct. 17 and Wednesday’s vote extended it by a year.
Turkish leaders have long accused Iraq’s Kurdish leaders of providing a safe haven for the rebels. Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin called for support from across the border.
"Turkey expects much more from northern Iraq in the fight against terrorism," he said. "The fact that the attack (that killed 17 soldiers) was carried out with heavy weapons shows that the terrorist organization is able to continue its activities in the region."
The Iraqi government has vowed to curb the PKK presence in Iraq but insists there is little authorities there can do against the group which hides in bases in remote, mountainous regions that are difficult to get to.
The spokesman criticized European countries for not extraditing wanted militants. "PKK terrorists are able to roam in some EU countries. They are given residency and travel rights," Ozugergin said. "We expect more effective, more concrete cooperation."