ISTANBUL - Turkey on Sunday arrested five people over the killing of three off-duty soldiers in the Kurdish-majority southeast of the country blamed by the authorities on separatist militants, the official Anatolia news agency.

The three soldiers were gunned down in the middle of the afternoon Saturday while walking in the town centre of Yuksekova in the eastern Hakkari province. The army blamed the attack on the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three decade insurgency for self-rule but largely observed a ceasefire since March 2013.

As part of the investigation, police conducted several morning raids on addresses in Yuksekova, Anatolia said. Five suspects named as Mesut K., Islam B., M.Ali A., Orhan B. and Bayram A. were arrested and being interrogated, it said. The attack, for which so far no claim of responsibility has been made, dealt a heavy blow to efforts led by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to make peace with the Kurds.

In a new crime linked by some Turkish media to the PKK, the corpse of a village guard who had been missing for two months was found hanging from a telegraph post in the Tatvan district of the southeastern Bitlis region. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published on Sunday he believed that neither the PKK or Turkey's main pro-Kurdish political party the People's Democratic Party (HDP) wanted peace.

‘Neither the PKK nor the party that is its extension wants peace. Two plus two equals four,’ Erdogan told Turkish reporters aboard his plane. He said that Turkey's Kurdish population were happy with the AKP's development projects for the region but said it was the ‘terror organisation’ that was blocking peace efforts. Erdogan indicated there could be a split between elements in the PKK and its overall leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on the Imrali prison island in the Sea of Marmara.

Ocalan said in a doveish statement last week that he was hopeful the peace process would be concluded successfully, remarks that contrasted with the recent upsurge in militant activity by the group. ‘As far as I can see Imrali is also worried and made a declaration that the peace process should not be damaged,’ said Erdogan, avoiding referring to Ocalan by name.