Watchdog: Turkey blocks probes of rights abuses in southeast

AP News
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Posted: Jul 11, 2016 10:34 AM

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish government is preventing independent investigations of alleged mass abuses against civilians across southeastern Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The rights group said the alleged abuses include "unlawful killings of civilians, mass forced displacement, and widespread unlawful destruction of private property."

Large swaths of the region plunged into violence last summer after a tenuous 2½-year cease-fire between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants unraveled. Security operations in the southeast have often been coupled with round-the-clock curfews that have limited independent reporting by media or international organizations.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to grant the U.N. human rights office access to conflict-stricken areas to probe the allegations.

"The Turkish government's effective blockade of areas of the southeast fuels concerns of a major cover up," said HRW senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb.

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, said the HRW report was "completely inaccurate."

"Turkey is operating in a transparent manner to fight a terrorist organization that kills not only members of the security forces but also innocent civilians," he said.

The report said nine towns, including Cizre, were the worst affected with more than 355,000 people displaced and at least 338 civilians killed in areas of armed clashes.

It noted that most of the deaths had occurred in neighborhoods where fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, had erected barricades and dug trenches.

HRW said it had also collected witness accounts of security forces firing on civilians carrying white flags in Cizre and documented civilian deaths in areas without clashes.

"The available information also indicates that security forces surrounded three buildings and deliberately and unjustifiably killed about 130 people," read the report.

Sinclair-Webb said "credible accounts of Turkish security forces deliberately killing civilians, including children... should be ringing loud alarm bells."

She urged a full and transparent investigation into all allegations of abuse by state forces and armed groups that can deliver justice for the victims.

Renewed violence between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels has killed an estimated 600 soldiers and 5,000 PKK militants in the past year, according to state-run media.

The PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state in a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives, is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and its allies.