ISTANBUL (REUTERS) - Turkish soldiers conducting an operation against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq have found the bodies of 13 kidnapped Turks executed in a cave, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Forty-eight PKK militants were killed in the operation, while three Turkish soldiers were killed and three wounded, Mr Akar said in a statement released on Sunday (Feb 14).
Twelve of the kidnapped Turks had been shot in the head and one in the shoulder.
Turkey launched a military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq's Gara region on Feb 10 to secure its border and find citizens who had been kidnapped previously, he said.
One senior security source told Reuters that nine of the 13 found dead in the cave had been identified and that they included Turkish intelligence, military and police personnel.
"According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave," Mr Akar said at the operation's control centre near the Iraq border.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its armed insurgency in mainly Kurdish south-east Turkey in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
In the last two years, Turkey's fight against the PKK has increasingly focused on northern Iraq, where the group has its stronghold in the Qandil mountains on the Iranian border.
A statement on a PKK website said some prisoners it was holding, including Turkish intelligence, police and military personnel, had died during clashes in the area.
The group denied it had ever hurt prisoners.
Turkish officials vowed to continue the fight against the PKK, and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin accused other countries of failing to speak out against the militants.
He said the 13 abducted people had been civilians.
"(The PKK) attacks Turkish and Iraqi security forces and civilians. It continues its terrorist attacks in northern Syria. The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity. But we will not remain silent," he wrote on Twitter.
In 2017, Turkey's foreign minister said Ankara was working to bring back citizens he said had been kidnapped by the PKK, after Turkish media reported two Turkish intelligence officers had been captured by the PKK in Iraq.