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UN Presses Turkey to OK Independent Probe of Alleged Rights Abuses

  • Lou Lorscheider

FILE - A Syrian refugee child looks over the fence at the Oncupinar camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, March 17, 2016.

FILE - A Syrian refugee child looks over the fence at the Oncupinar camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, March 17, 2016.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling on Turkey to allow independent investigators to probe "a succession of alarming reports" of human rights abuses in the country's embattled southeast.

Tuesday's U.N. call for transparency from Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein comes as European leaders press the Ankara government to halt the flow of refugees into Europe, while at the same time pushing it to reform anti-terror laws that opponents say are increasingly used against government critics.

A U.N. statement said Zeid had received reports of unarmed civilians — including women and children — "being deliberately shot by snipers, or by gunfire from tanks and other military vehicles."

Zeid also cites the "massive, and seemingly highly disproportionate, destruction of property" in the Turkish southeast — the entry point for several million Syrian migrants fleeing war, and a region where Turkish troops are battling a decades-long Kurdish insurgency.

FILE - A Turkish flag flies at the refugee camp for Syrian refugees in Islahiye, Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, March 16, 2016.

FILE - A Turkish flag flies at the refugee camp for Syrian refugees in Islahiye, Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, March 16, 2016.

The statement further cites allegations of arbitrary arrests and torture in the southeast, and claims that ambulances and rescue personnel have in some cases been blocked from reaching those wounded by Turkish forces.

Erdogan ridicules reform calls

For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has scoffed at Western calls for human rights reforms. He has argued that the dual threats facing his country from Kurdish militants in the region, coupled with increasing incidents of Islamic State terrorism, call for strengthening anti-terror laws rather than curtailing them.

He went so far last week as to reject a deal under which the European Union offered Turkey visa-free travel, in exchange for Turkish anti-terror reforms.

"They say they are going to abolish visas and this is the condition," Erdogan told supporters in Istanbul. "I'm sorry, we're going our way. You go yours," he said Friday.

FILE - Refugees walk at the Oncupinar refugee camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, March 17, 2016.

FILE - Refugees walk at the Oncupinar refugee camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, March 17, 2016.

HRW cites violence toward Syrians

In a related development Tuesday, Human Rights Watch challenged Turkish claims of welcoming Syrian asylum-seekers streaming across its borders.

In a 13-page statement, HRW cited shootings and beatings of Syrian migrants, and said border guards last month blocked thousands of Syrians at the border who were fleeing Islamic State fighters northeast of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The statement singled out witness reports of three Turkish airstrikes at a camp sheltering 4,500 displaced Syrians near Turkey's increasingly fortified border. It said medics had recovered 20 bodies, including those of two children, and said at least 37 other were wounded in the strikes.

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