Reuters International

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's armed forces said on Thursday that a military helicopter that crashed a week ago during clashes that killed eight soldiers including two pilots, may have been brought down by Kurdish militants with a ground-to-air missile.

If confirmed, it would be the first known usage in recent years of such weaponry by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, who have been waging an insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey's southeast for more than three decades.

The armed forces initially said the helicopter had crashed last Friday due to a technical fault during air operations against PKK fighters in the province of Hakkari near the border with Iraq.

"As the helicopters carried out their mission, the conclusion has been reached that one helicopter may have been struck and downed with an air defence weapon that could have been a missile, possibly fired from the ground," the military said in a statement.

It said a detailed investigation was continuing.

Separately, the army said one Turkish soldier was killed and nine others were wounded on Thursday during army operations in the southeastern town of Nusaybin, near the Syria border, after Kurdish militants detonated a remotely controlled device.

Another soldier was killed in the eastern province of Van and 10 Kurdish militants were killed in clashes with the army across three southeastern towns on Wednesday.

The military also said Turkish warplanes killed 15 militants in air strikes on Wednesday on PKK shelters, caves and gun posts in southeastern town of Semdinli and in northern Iraq.

After the collapse of a ceasefire last July, Turkey's southeast has seen some of its worst fighting since the height of the Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who had spearheaded the peace process between the state and the PKK, has ruled out any return to negotiations and has vowed to crush the militant group. Thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians, have been killed in the violence since July.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Erdogan's office said in a statement earlier that U.S. President Barack Obama had discussed with the Turkish leader in a phone call late on Wednesday strengthening cooperation in fighting all terrorist organisations including the PKK.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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