( AP ) - Kurdish rebels killed 13 Turkish soldiers Sunday in a clash in the country's southeast, and troops responded by shelling an area near Iraq to try to stop the rebels from escaping across the border, the military said.
Turkey has been pressing Iraq and the United States to hit the bases of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, and has considered a unilateral military operation across the border to root out the rebels.
The soldiers were killed in the southeastern province of Sirnak, not far from where troops and rebels clashed two days earlier, according to a statement on the military's Web site. An operation to track down the rebels was under way, and troops shelled areas near the border to try to prevent rebels from reaching their bases in northern Iraq, the statement said.
The clash "boosted our determination and strength" to fight terrorism, the military said.
Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi, a spokesman for the Kurdish rebel group, confirmed the attack and said the rebel fighters sustained no casualties.
Kurdish rebels have been staging attacks on Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq. But the U.S. opposes any military move into Iraq by Turkey.
Turkey signed a counterterrorism pact with Iraq in September and had demanded it be allowed to send its troops to Iraq's north to pursue the Kurdish rebels. But Iraq did not agree to the demand under pressure from the leaders of its semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
"We are not concerned with this issue because these clashes and shelling happened inside Turkish territories. This is a Turkish internal problem," Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the government of Iraq's Kurdish region, said after Sunday's attack.
The PKK is branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Its members have fought Turkish government forces since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey's ethnic Kurds. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Turkey's military on Sunday designated 27 "security zones" off limits to civilians in eastern and southeastern regions where the borders with Iraq and Iran converge. Starting Tuesday, the zones will be in place until Dec. 10.
The military imposed similar zones earlier in June in three southeastern provinces to keep civilians away from the fighting with the PKK.
Some experts have speculated that the zones are part of preparations for a possible Iraq campaign.