ISTANBUL - Turkey’s government and Kurdish militants on Sunday exchanged angry accusations after the most serious clashes this year that threaten to undermine a fragile peace process.

Kurdish militants accused the military of provoking Saturday’s violence that according to the Turkish army left five Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels dead and four soldiers wounded.

However the government said the clashes showed the PKK had not renounced violence, even as efforts continue to find an end to a decades-long conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. “It is not possible to pursue violence side-by-side with politics,” said Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz, quoted by the official Anatolia news agency. “The national will cannot be held hostage to the gun,” he added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused the PKK of seeking “to dynamite the peace in our country and undermine the peace process”.

According to Turkish news reports, Saturday’s fighting in the Agri region in the southeast of the country lasted 12 hours.

The army said clashes began when a unit was sent to investigate reports of a “festival” being held to promote the PKK, at which point the soldiers were fired on by the rebels.

The four wounded Turkish soldiers were airlifted to a military hospital in Ankara where they were visited Sunday by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

However Kurdish militants and activists gave a starkly different account, accusing the government of provoking the situation in a bid to discredit the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) ahead of June 7 elections in Turkey.

The pro-Kurdish news agency DIHA said the military had fired on a “tree planting” event and that one civilian, Cezmi Budak, had been killed with a bullet to the throat.

The urban wing of the PKK, the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union), warned Sunday that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) risked destroying the peace process.

“They will end up finishing and burning themselves if they keep playing with fire,” it said in a statement quoted by the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency.

“While we are acting with a responsibility to pursue the ceasefire process, the Turkish state continues its military activities,” it added.

The PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan has called on militants to take steps to lay down their arms in what many see as a historic breakthrough.

However there have been signs the peace process has been stumbling in recent months as Turkey’s political forces prepare for the legislative elections in June.