Turkey hits PKK in Iraq as bodies of slain Kurds arrive

16th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Turkish jets have pounded Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq in the fiercest aerial campaign in years, military sources said Wednesday, the same day the bodies of three female Kurdish activists who were killed in Paris were due home.

Sixteen F-16 fighter jets took off from their base in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, a Kurdish minority stronghold, around 10:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Tuesday and bombed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases in the Qandil mountains, 90 kilometres (55 miles) from the border, a military source said.

"More than 50 targets were hit in the three-hour operation" targeting the leadership of the outlawed separatist group using its bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks inside Turkey, he added.

The military source did not provide any casualty tallies.

The operation came hours before a plane carrying the bodies of three PKK affiliate activists who were slain in Paris last week was due to land in Diyarbakir.

Their symbolic funeral was planned for Thursday, before the bodies would be sent to nearby hometowns the next day.

The planned ceremonies have raised tensions in Turkey, with government leaders urging the Kurdish minority, which makes up around 20 percent of the population, for calm.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's security forces would be on alert during the ceremonies in case of "any kind of provocation," such as a large protest.

Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir however dismissed such concerns.

"The people of Diyarbakir know very well how to mourn and how to claim their dead," he told reporters.

One of the slain women was Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the PKK, which took up arms in 1984 for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey. She still held a Turkish passport when she was killed.

The fighting between the state and the insurgents resulted in the death of 45,000 people, mostly Kurds, and led to Ankara and much of the international community branding the PKK a terrorist organisation.

Turkey has sought information from France over the Paris killing of the activists, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

"Contacts are under way between the police departments of the two countries," Selcuk Unal told a weekly press conference.

The execution-style murders may have targeted the peace talks between Turkey's secret services and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, according to Turkish officials.

Erdogan said the peace process would be a "litmus test" for those who want a settlement, as he insisted military operations would continue to root out the armed wings of the PKK.

"Our security forces will continue operations until the terrorist organisation lays down arms and ends its attacks," he said in televised remarks.

But Baydemir said a "simultaneous ceasefire" would be the only way to prevent any disruptions into the peace talks.

"The attitude of Diyarbakir will be one that unveils provocateurs ... one that contributes for the evolution of peace talks to permanent negotiations and peace," he added.

Abdulrazzaq Bayiz, mayor of Senkasar region of Iraqi Kurdistan, told AFP that Turkish aircraft hit two villages in his region for 45 minutes, but there were no casualties.

On Sunday, a senior PKK member was reported killed in a shootout in Nusaybin town on the border with neighbouring Syria.

Turkey says around 2,000 Kurdish rebels are hiding on the mountainous Iraqi side and it targets their hideouts to eliminate the leadership cadres of the complex organisation.

© 2013 AFP

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