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Civilian Deaths Claimed in Turkish Airstrike

  • Dorian Jones

Locals gather in front of the bodies of people who were killed in a warplane attack in the Ortasu village of Uludere, in the Sirnak province, December 29, 2011.

Locals gather in front of the bodies of people who were killed in a warplane attack in the Ortasu village of Uludere, in the Sirnak province, December 29, 2011.

Turkey's military carried out airstrikes late Wednesday in the mountainous border region with Iraq and says it was targeting Kurdish rebels. Local officials report 35 people were killed and say the victims were civilian smugglers, not fighters.

The number of dead from the airstrike has been rising. The charred remains of bodies are slowly being recovered from the mountainous border region.

Turkey's military command says the airstrike was aimed at Kurdish rebels of the PKK who frequently enter Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

A local mayor claims those killed were smugglers, however, bringing in diesel fuel. A spokesman for the PKK also is reported to have said the dead were smugglers.

The Turkish chief of staff said the air force carried out the attack after receiving intelligence from U.S. drone surveillance aircraft, which have been leased to Turkey as part of Washington's increasing support for Ankara's fight against the PKK.

Journalist Metehan Demir, with the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, said the Predator drones are now seen as key to Turkey's battle against the rebels. Kurds protest after Turkey's air force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets across the border in Iraq, killing dozens of people, many of them believed to be smugglers mistaken for PKK fighters, in Istanbul, Turkey, December 29. 2011.

Kurds protest after Turkey's air force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets across the border in Iraq, killing dozens of people, many of them believed to be smugglers mistaken for PKK fighters, in Istanbul, Turkey, December 29. 2011.

"The biggest problem for Turkey in fighting against terrorism, is infiltration of PKK terrorists from northern Iraq. Turkey has been trying to take measures to stop the infiltration but always failed. Predators are one key instrument to survey the area from the air - also some of them armed," said Demir.

Kurdish elected officials in southeast Turkey have criticized the latest air strike. They say they had warned the security forces of the presence of smugglers in the region and a drop in PKK activity.

The Turkish military has been intensifying operations against the PKK, which is fighting for autonomy and greater cultural rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

Winter is traditionally a quiet time in the fighting as the rebels normally retreat to bases in northern Iraq. At the same time there is an upsurge in cross-border smuggling of heating oil.

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