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Violence Intensifies in Turkey's Kurdish Region


Violence has been steadily rising in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast region ever since rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, ended a five-year truce in June 2004. Two weeks of violent protests left at least 10 Kurdish demonstrators dead in the provinces of Diyarbakir and Batman. At least two Turkish soldiers and 12 rebels were killed in fighting Tuesday in Sirnak Province.

In a dark cramped apartment in Diyarbakir's Baglar district, Mahmut Duran can barely hold back his tears as he greets a steady stream of visitors . They are bringing condolences for the death of his nine-year-old son Abdullah. Duran says his son was shot and killed by Turkish security forces during last month's demonstrations.

Duran says he will not rest until justice is served.

Abdullah is one of four children killed in the worst bout of violence in Turkey's Kurdish region in recent years. The trouble started on March 28 during the burial ceremony of four rebels belonging to the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party known as PKK.

The funeral degenerated into a rampage, as enraged Kurdish youths firebombed banks, stoned police stations and shattered hundreds of shop windows. Two Kurds died in ensuing clashes with police.

Their funerals sparked a new round of protests that engulfed the neighboring provinces of Batman, Mardin and Hakkari further east. Retaliatory attacks by the PKK that claimed the lives of two

Turkish women in Istanbul have stoked nationalist anger across Turkey.

There is mounting pressure on Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take tougher action against the rebels. But analysts warn that addressing the Kurdish problem through military measures alone may jeopardize Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union. Human rights activists in Diyarbakir say that arbitrary arrests and torture of detainees has sharply increased in recent weeks.

Since coming to power three years ago Mr. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party pushed through reforms that persuaded the 25-member European alliance to open membership talks with Turkey last October. They include laws that allow the country's estimated 14 million Kurds to teach their long banned language in private schools.

Last month private television stations were granted official permission to broadcast in Kurdish.

Ahmet Turk is the co-chairman of Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, or DTP. He says the reforms are a step in the right direction but they fall short of addressing the Kurds' demands for lasting peace in the region.

Turk says that one of the foremost conditions for securing peace in the region would be for the government to declare an amnesty for some 5,000 PKK rebels, whose leaders are based in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq.

He says the government's refusal to grant amnesty to PKK members was one of the main reasons why the rebels abandoned their unilateral cease-fire last June and resumed their violent campaign.

Abdurrahman Kurt is the provincial chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party in Diyarbakir. He says government reforms and rising economic prosperity have combined to erode public support for the PKK. He says the recent violence is a clear sign of PKK's waning influence.

Kurt says the government now provides free health care for poor families and around $20 in educational support for each of their children every month. He admits more needs to be done to win the hearts and minds of Turkey's restive Kurds and that military action against the rebels needs to be tempered with further democratic reforms.

Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk agrees that the PKK's decision to resume its armed campaign is unpopular with many Kurds. He says Kurdish issues should be addressed in peaceful negotiations.

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