Turkey will pay reparations to the families of Kurdish villagers killed in air strikes near the Iraqi border, but will not officially apologise, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Monday.
“The reparations will be paid in a couple of days,” Arinc said in televised remarks after a cabinet meeting. However, the government would not “officially” apologise for the killings, Arinc said.
“It would be a very negative expectation (that we) apologise officially.”
Arinc said the killings had not been intentional, but a probe of possible negligence was underway.
“It is absolutely out of question that the incident was intentional. However, although it was not intentional, examinations are ongoing about any possible negligence,” he said.
On Wednesday night, Turkish air strikes killed 35 Kurdish smugglers, most of them less than 20 years old, near the Iraqi border.
Turkey’s military command said it carried out the air strike after a spy drone spotted a group moving toward its sensitive southeastern border under cover of darkness late Wednesday, in an area known to be used by militants.
The main pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) said the planes had bombed villagers from Kurdish majority southeastern Turkey who were smuggling sugar and fuel across the border on mules and donkeys.
“The dead citizens are civilians but we have to know that the region is where (the army) hold cross border operations. The region is a place where terrorist actions and terrorist groupings are intense,” Arinc said.
He added that the army had received reports that a group of almost 50 people were walking with mules who could be carrying weapons.
Arinc said the air strikes were carried out after the group did not stop despite soldiers firing flares and artillery.
Investigations into the incident have been opened by both prosecutors and the military, he said.
Witness accounts said that soldiers had blocked the routes smugglers normally use to get back to their villages, and said that authorities were aware that the routes have been used to smuggle gas, cigarettes and sugar from northern Iraq for years.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday expressed regret for what he called an “unfortunate and distressing” incident.
“Images transmitted by drones showed a group of 40 people in the area, it was impossible to say who they were,” he told journalists in Istanbul. “Afterwards it was determined they were smugglers transporting cigarettes and fuel on mules.”
The military also offered its condolences on Friday in a rare gesture that appeared to acknowledge its error.
The PKK took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives. The group is regarded as a terrorist organisation both by the Ankara government and the West.
The PKK, which took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives, is labelled a terrorist outfit by Ankara and much of the international community.