Turkish air strike kills 35 Kurds near Iraq
DIYARBAKIR (Turkey) - A Turkish air raid on a Kurdish area near the Iraq border killed at least 35 people, with the military apparently mistaking smugglers for separatist rebels, officials said Thursday.
The Turkish authorities said its warplanes targeted militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on the Iraqi side of the border.
"Thirty-five people were killed and another person wounded in an aerial operation," the local Sirnak provincial governor's office said in a statement.
"A crisis centre has been set up in the area and prosecutors and security officers have been sent there," Governor Vahdettin Ozkan said.
Provincial officials said earlier they had found 23 bodies at the village of Ortasu in Sirnak, according to Ertan Eris, a local councillor of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BPD).
Eris told pro-Kurdish Roj TV from the bombing site that the dead were among a group of up to 40 people, ranging in age from 16 to 20, who were engaged in smuggling gas and sugar across the mountain border with Iraq.
The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said children were among the 35 people killed in the strike. The agency released photos showing bodies wrapped in blankets, lying on the snow side by side.
Kurdish media and local sources close to the PKK have presented slain rebels as civilians after previous incidents in the area, where the militants are known to operate.
The PKK took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives. It is labelled a terrorist organisation by Ankara and much of the international community.
Clashes between Kurdish rebels and the army have escalated in recent months.
The Turkish military launched an operation on militant bases inside northern Iraq in October after a PKK attack killed 24 soldiers in the border town of Cukurca, the army's biggest loss since 1993.
The army then killed 36 Kurdish rebels in Kazan Valley in Hakkari province, near the Iraqi border.
Media reports in Turkey and abroad, as well as the BDP, have accused Turkey of using chemical weapons against the rebels, allegations strongly denied by the military.
Iraqi officials and the BDP in August claimed Turkish warplanes killed a family of seven in northern Iraq during an operation to bomb PKK bases.
Turkey denied the charges and summoned Iraq's ambassador to protest the claims. An anonymous Turkish diplomat called the allegations "a PKK game".
In November Turkey bombed the Sulaimaniyah and Arbil provinces of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, wounding a civilian, Kurdish officials said.