updated 8/20/2006 12:48:17 AM ET 2006-08-20T04:48:17

A suspected Kurdish rebel attack caused an explosion and huge fire on a natural gas pipeline in eastern Turkey, the Energy Ministry said.

The region’s governor, Halil Ibrahim Akpinar, said separatist Kurds were suspected of carrying out an attack on the pipeline. He did not say if a bomb was believed to have caused the explosion.

The blast shook houses in nearby villages, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Gas flows to the nearby province of Erzincan were cut, Energy Ministry spokesman Bulent Ismen said.

Paramilitary police sealed off the area and firefighting teams were dispatched to the region.

Turkey has been importing natural gas from Iran through the 1,598-mile pipeline since 2001. Turkish and Iranian officials are reportedly discussing expanding the pipeline for exports to Europe.

Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, previously have sabotaged pipelines as part of their struggle for an autonomous homeland in southeastern Turkey. More than 37,000 people have been killed since the rebels took up arms in 1984.

The group is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey is pressing the United States and Iraq to crack down on the rebels, many of whom are based in northern Iraq.

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