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Wednesday, April 29, 1998 Published at 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK

World: Europe

Turkey mounts 'largest ever' operation against Kurds

Turkish forces have launched a large-scale operation against Kurdish separatist rebels in the mountainous southeast of the country, north of the city of Diyarbakir.

Some 40,000 soldiers backed by helicopter gunships and other heavy weapons have been fighting against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, for five days.

Reports from Turkey say nearly 40 people have been killed - most of them guerrillas.

A Turkish general described the operation as the largest ever launched inside Turkey's borders between Kurdish guerrillas and the army.

The Kurdish rebels, who are fighting for self-rule, began armed rebellion against Ankara in 1984.

In recent years there have been numerous cross-border operations into Northern Iraq as part of the Turkish army's strategy against the PKK.

Both the Turkish military and politicians have claimed that the PKK is about to be crushed by the security forces.

The government recently unveiled several measures to rebuild the economy of the mainly Kurdish-populated south-eastern part of Turkey, an area which has suffered badly as a result of the fighting.

Turkey has frequently been criticised by human-rights activists for its treatment of the Kurdish minority.

So far, there are no plans to give the country's estimated 12m Kurds minority rights, such as the right to education in their own language.

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