ISTANBUL: Turkish security forces killed 3,100 Kurdish militants in 2015, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, vowing no let-up in a relentless offensive to oust rebels from towns and mountains in the southeast.
His remarks, which were part of a televised New Year’s address, come as alarm grows over the humanitarian impact of curfews in the southeast to back up the latest military campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that began earlier this month.
“In 2015, 3,100 terrorists were neutralized in operations at home and abroad,” he said referring to the military operations on PKK strongholds in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq.
“Our security forces are flushing out the terrorists from every inch of the mountains and the towns and will continue to do so,” he said.
It was not possible to independently verify the toll. Erdogan said another 200 members of the security forces had been killed, as well as an unspecified number of civilians.
A new upsurge of violence between the security forces and Kurdish rebels erupted in July in the wake of attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, shattering a fragile two-and-a half year truce.
The authorities sent tanks into the southeast and also carried out bombing raids on PKK storage facilities and hideouts in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq.
In the latest operations, curfews imposed on December 14 are still in place in the towns of Silopi and Cizre in Sirnak province which normally have populations of some 100,000. A partial curfew is also in force in the Sur district of the Diyarbakir region which was put in place on December 2.
Ankara says the extreme measures are needed to root out the PKK from urban areas where they had erected barricades and dug trenches. But opponents say the use of force has been excessive.
According to the opposition pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), 56 civilians have been killed during curfews this month alone.
“These curfews, whose aims are public order and security, have led to terrorising the public, the killing of civilians, the destruction of cultural heritage sites, and the ruining of the cities,” said HDP MP Ayhan Bilgen.
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.