updated 9/29/2007 8:44:01 PM ET 2007-09-30T00:44:01

Kurdish rebels ambushed a minibus carrying pro-government village guards and civilians in southeastern Turkey and killed 12 people on Saturday, a local official said.

The rebels armed with machine guns attacked the minibus in Sirnak province near the border with Iraq, killing seven village guards and five civilians, governor Selahattin Apari said. Two civilians were injured and were rushed to nearby hospitals in military helicopters, Apari’s office said in a statement.

It said troops were combing the rugged area in search of the rebels.

Turkish troops killed 20 rebels in operations over the past 15 days in Sirnak province, authorities said Friday. No soldiers were killed, they said.

The ambush came a day after Turkey and Iraq signed an agreement to cooperate in cracking down on separatist Kurdish rebels who have been attacking Turkey from bases in Iraq.

Despite Ankara’s insistence, Iraq refused to allow Turkey to send its troops across the border to chase the Kurdish rebels.

Turkey has pondered a cross-border military operation to root out the members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, holed up in the mountainous areas of northern Iraq. However, the United States —a close ally of Ankara— objected to such a move, fearing it could destabilize the relatively calm part of Iraq.

Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq also oppose any military move by Turkey across the border.

The PKK is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. The group has been fighting for autonomy since 1984 and tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict.

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