Turkish security forces have killed 23 Kurdish militants during two days of operations in two southeastern towns, state media said on Thursday, in an intensifying urban battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The PKK’s three-decades-old insurgency, in the past focused in rural areas, flared up again in July after the collapse of a two-year ceasefire, leaving peacemaking in tatters and plunging Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast back into open conflict.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has pledged to pursue a “comprehensive campaign” until the area is “cleansed” of the PKK and told reporters that new police stations could be built as part of a permanent security presence in troubled areas.
“The fight will continue, particularly in Cizre and Silopi until they are completely cleansed. There are commandos, special forces, police,” the Milliyet newspaper quoted him on Thursday as saying on his aircraft. “There needs to be patience to wait and see the impact of this fight,” he said.
The towns of Cizre and Silopi, near the Syrian and Iraqi borders in the province of Sirnak, were placed under curfew on Monday as Turkey launched anti-PKK operations in which Turkish media says 10,000 police and troops are taking part.
Witnesses said the towns’ streets were empty and stores closed on Thursday and the Sirnak governor’s office said security forces continued to dismantle barricades, fill ditches and remove explosive devices planted by the PKK.
In the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir, militants threw handmade explosives under a police water cannon vehicle on Wednesday night, causing damaging and triggering a brief clash between police and fleeing assailants, security sources said.
The PKK launched its insurgency in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since. Peace talks between its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan and the state ground to a halt early this year. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Davutoglu said earlier this week Ankara aimed to prevent the PKK “spreading the fire” from Syria and Iraq to Turkey by imposing control in towns, like the army has done in mountainous areas where the militants were active in the past.
Figen Yukseldag, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has said 200,000 people have been displaced in recent months as a result of conflict in the southeast, accusing the state of conducting a war against Kurds.
Davutoglu said the operations were launched to frustrate moves to trigger a civil war, accusing the HDP, whose core support is sympathetic to the PKK, of acting arrogantly after winning 13 percent of the vote in a June election.
“If we had delayed a bit more (in launching operations), their intention was to launch a much more comprehensive civil war,” he said, accusing the HDP leaders of “playing with fire”.