By Ayla Jean Yackley
ISTANBUL, Jan 21 – Security operations in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast have put up to 200,000 people at risk, placing them in the crossfire or cutting them off from emergency and basic services such as water, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Round-the-clock curfews amid clashes between security forces and the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have confined people indoors, even forcing some to live with the corpses of dead relatives, for days, it said in a report.
Authorities say the curfews are aimed at protecting civilians amid near-daily clashes.
“Turkey has never taken an approach that would endanger the lives of innocent citizens,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity in response to Amnesty’s report. “This is a struggle against a terrorist organisation that harms everyone in the region and is responsible for the deaths of many people, primarily security forces.”
Violence is at its worst in two decades after a 31-year insurgency reignited in July. Since then, more than 150 civilians, as well as hundreds of soldiers and PKK fighters, have been killed, Amnesty and government officials say. Operations intensified last month in Cizre and Silopi towns and the Sur district of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region.
“Among those killed were young children, women and elderly people, who are very unlikely to have been involved in clashes with security forces,” London-based Amnesty’s report said, adding authorities had blocked observers from visiting areas under curfew.
“Crippling curfews that do not allow people to leave their houses at all have been in place for more than a month, effectively laying siege to entire neighbourhoods,” John Dalhuisen, an Amnesty director, said in the report.
PEACE TALKS DERAILED
The clampdown in a half-dozen towns in the southeast, home to most of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds, is aimed at rooting out militants who have dug trenches and built barricades in a bid to declare autonomy in urban areas.
The clashes spelled the end to a ceasefire and peace talks seen as the best chance yet of ending the conflict that has killed 40,000 people since 1984.
President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday ruled out re-opening talks with parliament’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has Kurdish roots and had played a role in the last effort.
“We don’t have a road plan in front of us. Those with guns in their hands and those who support them will pay the price of treason,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
On Wednesday, 33 PKK militants were killed in three towns, while a soldier was killed and seven wounded in Diyarbakir, the region’s biggest city, the army said.
Amnesty accused Turkey’s Western partners of failing to speak out against the measures because of the NATO member’s role fighting Daesh in neighbouring Syria and hosting war refugees. Turkey shelters 2.2 million Syrian refugees and has agreed with the EU to do more to stop their exodus to Europe.
European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Wednesday called for “an immediate ceasefire and an urgent return to the Kurdish peace process” at the European Parliament, according to a transcript of his speech.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States as well as Turkey.