Rights group: Civilian deaths rise in Turkey's Kurdish areas

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2015 1:50 PM
Rights group: Civilian deaths rise in Turkey's Kurdish areas

ISTANBUL (AP) — A report by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Turkish authorities to scale back security operations in Kurdish areas in the southeast, warning of rapidly rising casualties among civilians.

The group documented 15 civilian deaths during 24-hour curfews in September and November, noting that these were just a "sample" and called for a full investigation. It cited a local rights group who put the civilian death toll since July at over 100.

Periodic clashes have erupted between government forces and Kurdish opposition fighters since peace talks collapsed in July. Provincial authorities have slapped extended curfews on flashpoint neighborhoods and towns of the south, a measure they see as necessary to facilitate security operations.

The curfews have often been coupled with electricity and power cuts. Many residents have been displaced as a result of the fighting while wounded people have been denied medical attention, according to the report.

"The Turkish government should rein in its security forces, immediately stop abusive and disproportionate use of force, and investigate the deaths and injuries caused by its operations," HRW senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

Turkish security forces launched a large-scale operation last week hoping to route young armed militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. Authorities have promised to "cleanse" the area and bury the "terrorists" in their ditches and trenches.

Thousands of protesters marched in the city Diyarbakir Tuesday against the curfew imposed on the Sur neighborhood. Security forces dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannons, while some protesters responded by hurling rocks.

In the southeastern town of Cizre, which has seen the heaviest casualties in the latest operations, residents violated the eighth day of a curfew to stock up on food at an open supermarket. Security forces unleashed teargas as they rushed home through side streets and past shuttered shops.

The HRW report warned that civilian casualties are likely to "rise steeply" as a result of the heavy fighting. It also urged Kurdish armed groups to "stop digging trenches planted with explosives" to seal off their neighborhoods from security forces.

The escalating violence has dashed hopes for the resumption of peace talks between the state and PKK, which have fought a three-decade conflict that has killed more than 30,000. It comes at a time when the White House would like Turkey to step up efforts in the fight against the Islamic State group.