The Turkish government has denied a human rights group’s claims that it has killed more than 100 Kurdish civilians during recent security operations and armed clashes in the country’s southeast.
The main reason why civilians die in the region is the presence of the PKK there
“Local human rights groups have recorded well over 100 civilian deaths and multiple injuries,” the US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.
Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been engaged in intense clashes in the southeast of the country since a 2013 ceasefire collapsed in July.
Responding to the report, Ankara said that the PKK was responsible for the civilian deaths in the region.
“The main reason why civilians die in the region is the presence of the PKK there,” Osman Sert, spokesman for Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“There are plenty of confirmed cases where the PKK killed civilians, because they would not bow to the PKK threats or reject supporting the terrorist group.
“Turkish security forces have been taking the utmost measures to prevent civilian casualties in the operations.”
HRW: Cases documented
Human Rights Watch said its report focuses on police and military operations during three extended curfews in September and November, documenting 15 of the killings of civilians in detail through interviews with relatives and witnesses.
The accounts of eight civilians injured with gunshot wounds and shrapnel, and three cases of serious ill-treatment in detention were also documented by the group.
“The authorities have failed to complete [these] investigations despite a clear obligation to do so under Turkish domestic and international human rights law,” the report said.
Local media reported that more than 10,000 troops, supported by armed vehicles, were deployed to the region last week to fight against young armed PKK supporters from urban areas.
The Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, which claims to be PKK’s youth wing, has blocked roads to various neighbourhoods in several southeastern towns and cities using barricades and trenches, some reportedly packed with explosives, aiming to prevent security forces from entering these areas.
“The civilian death toll is likely to rise steeply in the coming days,” Human Rights Watch said, as a result of “shelling by the military and heavy clashes with armed Kurdish groups”.
Witnesses told the rights group that security forces repeatedly opened fire on anyone on the streets or who left their homes, failing to distinguish between people who were armed and those who were not.
Several areas in various provinces have been under on-and-off curfews since the clashes began.
“The reason curfews have been extended for a long period of time is the definitive precision of the operation with the highest sensitivity put on avoiding civilian casualties as well as military ones. It is a meticulous operation,” the prime minister’s spokesman Sert told Al Jazeera.
“Turkey could have carried out a much faster operation, but does not do so” to protect lives, he added.
However, Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, called on the Turkish government to rein in its security forces, immediately stop the abusive and disproportionate use of force, and investigate the deaths and injuries caused by its operations.
“To ignore or cover up what is happening to the region’s Kurdish population would only confirm the widely held belief in the southeast that when it comes to police and military operations against Kurdish armed groups, there are no limits – there is no law.”