updated 4/14/2005 2:14:54 PM ET 2005-04-14T18:14:54

Turkish troops killed 21 Kurdish rebels overnight in southeastern Turkey — the biggest clash since the rebels declared a unilateral truce more than five years ago, a governor’s office said Thursday.

Turkish troops suffered three losses during the clash near the town of Pervari, in Siirt province, the governor’s office in Sirnak province said in a statement.

Private CNN-Turk television said earlier that Turkish troops had been pursuing rebels believed to have infiltrated into Turkey from neighboring Iraq during the past week, and that the clash erupted overnight.

Among the Turkish troops killed were a lieutenant and two sergeants, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported.

Violence has increased since June, when the rebels declared an end to a five-year old unilateral truce, saying that Turkey had not reciprocated. The rebels declared the cease-fire in 1999, following the capture of their leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Earlier this month, Turkish troops killed nine rebels in a five-day clash on the Iraqi border.

The rebels belong to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has been seeking autonomy in Turkey's southeast and has battled government forces since 1984 -- a conflict that has killed more than 37,000 people.

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