Last updated: 24 March, 2012

Turkish forces kill 15 women Kurd rebels

Turkish security forces killed 15 rebel Kurds, all of them women, in fighting in the separatist heartland in the southeast of the country on Saturday, the interior ministry said.

The clashes erupted the day after the Turkish army and police wrapped up a massive offensive against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) near the Iraqi border.

Saturday’s fighting occurred in a rural area of the province of Bitlis, a centre of the armed rebellion being waged by the PKK, according to a statement carried by the official Anatolia news agency.

A local security source said the Kurd separatist movement had a number of women-only units and that one of these had been wiped out.

The ministry statement also said a member of a local Kurdish force armed by Turkey was killed and three others wounded in the fighting.

On Friday, Turkish security forces wrapped up their largest operation this year against PKK militants that left seven policemen and six rebels dead.

The offensive around the Mount Cudi area near the Iraqi border involved thousands of members of the security forces, including police and the army, backed by helicopters and fighter jets.

Saturday’s deaths bring the number of Kurdish rebels killed in less than a week to 21, while eight members of the security forces have died, reflecting an upsurge in fighting with the approach of spring.

In recent months, the government has also intensified pressure on alleged sympathisers of the Kurdish rebels.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and by much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

In December, Turkish air strikes killed 34 Kurdish smugglers near the Iraqi border in December when commanders mistook them for PKK fighters.

PKK members sheltering in bases in northern Iraq cross over the mountains this time of the year into Turkey, taking advantage of the thawing snow, to launch attacks.

Turkish army and police units step up surveillance and patrols in the mountains to counter this.

According to Turkish media, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has changed tack on the rebels, halting all direct contact with the PKK in a bid to crush the movement.

It has also ceased all contact with PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan who has since 1999 been serving a life sentence in an island prison in northwestern Turkey.

Turkey embraced a policy of openness towards the PKK in 2009 which involved direct talks between the government and PKK leaders.

But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants to take a harder line, intensified a military and judicial offensive against the group.

According to the liberal Milliyet newspaper, Erdogan is trying to secure Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani’s help in persuading rebels there to disarm.