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70 killed in major anti-PKK operation in southeast Turkey: Army

AFP , Saturday 19 Dec 2015
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Seventy suspected members of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have been killed in a vast operation against the group in the mainly Kurdish southeast over the past four days, the army said Saturday.

Eight PKK rebels have been killed since Friday, taking the death toll in the unprecedented offensive by the army and police on pro-PKK bastions in three towns and cities to 70, the army said on its website.

The army also said it had carried out airstrikes Friday on PKK "hideouts" and "weapons sites" across the border in northern Iraq, where the outlawed group has its rear bases.

A Turkish soldier was killed in the operations Saturday, bringing the death toll on the army side to two.

Some 10,000 troops backed by tanks have been deployed in the southeast to try to rout young PKK supporters from urban areas, according to local media.

The operation, which has targeted the towns of Cizre and Silopi in Sirnak province as well as a neighbourhood in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region, began on Wednesday, according to the army.

Thirty-six militants were killed on Thursday alone.

Army chief Hulusi Akar visited Sirnak province on Saturday for a briefing by the local military command.

The army said that two schools that had been used by the PKK as hideouts had been rendered inoperable while a stash of arms had been seized in Silopi.

The operations mark a new escalation in five months of fighting between the army and the PKK since a two-and-a-half year truce collapsed in July.

Although analysts have called for peace talks, the authorities led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have said Ankara must eradicate the PKK.

"The terrorists wanted to paralyse daily life in these towns by intimidating inhabitants who they had extorted," Interior Minister Efkan Ala told the state-run Anatolia news agency last week.

He said the authorities had seized 2,240 weapons, 10 tonnes of explosives and 10,000 Molotov cocktails from the militants.

Images published by Anatolia showed heavily armed soldiers backed by tanks going house-to-house in the towns and firing from street corners.

"You (the PKK) will disappear into those trenches that you dug," Erdogan told supporters in a speech in the central city of Konya broadcast on television.

The Turkish government says the operation is needed to eliminate militants who were effectively taking over the towns by building barricades and digging trenches.

But Kurdish activists and politicians have accused the army of acting with impunity and pounding large parts of the towns to rubble.

Images from the area show troops clashing with militants in the otherwise deserted streets. Cizre has a population of some 100,000, and Silopi more than 80,000.

"Are you trying to be heroic by sending six generals and 10,000 soldiers against a few PKK (members) in Cizre?", the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, Selahattin Demirtas, asked the government.

"By conducting an operation with such an amount of forces, bombing cities, sending soldiers on the people you only show, in fact, how helpless you are," he told reporters this week.

Demirtas lambasted the official Turkish rhetoric used to describe the crackdown as a "cleansing operation".

The curfews in Cizre and Silopi are the latest in a succession of such measures across the southeast that have angered activists.

There have also been growing tensions over a curfew in the Sur district of southeastern Diyarbakir province -- also mainly Kurdish -- that has been in place almost uninterrupted since December 2.

The PKK launched a formal insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although it now presses more for greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority. The conflict has left tens of thousands dead.

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