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    Turkey launches large-scale attack on Kurdish militants - media

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    The Turkish army is conducting the largest military operation against Kurdish separatists in the south-east of the country in the past few years, local media reported Wednesday.

    ANKARA, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - The Turkish army is conducting the largest military operation against Kurdish separatists in the south-east of the country in the past few years, local media reported Wednesday.

    According to the Turkish Cihan news agency, the operation, involving about 50,000 troops, armored vehicles and combat aircraft, is targeting Kurdish militants in 11 provinces in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.

    "Three F-16 Falcon fighter-bombers...have carried out bombing raids on militant positions of terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq," the agency said. "Artillery deployed at the border [with northern Iraq] has delivered 'pinpointed' strikes at designated targets."

    Observers are not ruling out the possibility that the current operation will precede a full-scale invasion into northern Iraq, where up to 3,500 PKK separatists, poised to commit terrorist attacks in Turkey, are reportedly based.

    Turkish foreign minister Monday defended his country's right to move into neighboring Iraq to destroy separatist bases after a suicide attack, which occurred at a Turkish checkpoint on June 4, killed at least eight soldiers and left six wounded in the latest in a series of terrorist attacks allegedly carried out by Kurdish militants.

    Over 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey since 1984 when the PKK started its fight for an ethnic Kurdish state in the southeast of the country. Its charismatic leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999 on charges of terrorism narrowly escaping the death penalty because the EU, whose membership Turkey is seeking, has long lobbied against capital punishment.

    Since the 2003 U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Turkish separatist Kurds have received increasing, if unacknowledged, support from those living in the three neighboring provinces of oil-rich northern Iraq, whose population has sought autonomy from Baghdad and where local Peshmerga militia formally took over security functions from U.S. forces earlier this month.

    Ethnic Kurds have also been actively driving for autonomy in eastern parts of Syria. The borders between the three countries are still unsecured.

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