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Seventeen Turkish soldiers killed in helicopter crash

DIYARBAKIR (Reuters) - Seventeen Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday when their helicopter crashed in southeastern Turkey due to bad weather conditions including fog, the area's governor said.

The Sikorsky helicopter crashed on Herekol mountain, in the Pervari area of Siirt province, Siirt Governor Ahmet Aydin said. The victims were members of the country's gendarmerie special forces and there were no survivors, he said.

The Turkish military has been carrying out operations on the mountain in recent months to flush out militants from outlawed separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who have hideouts there.

"Today at 7:15 in the morning in the village of Bilgili around Siirt, we got 17 martyrs - officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in a statement.

Military officials reached the crash site and were taking the soldiers' bodies to the province's main city, Siirt.

Since summer there has been an upsurge in PKK attacks in southeast Turkey, notably in the Hakkari region.

Three teachers were kidnapped by PKK militants on Saturday near the Syrian border in Mardin province, security sources said.

Turkish jets and helicopters have pounded PKK positions along the border with Iraq and Iran for three days, killing 42 militants, Hakkari's governor said late on Friday.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Turkey and the PKK, which launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of carving out a separate state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

The PKK is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Seda Sezer; Editing by Pravin Char)

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