Turkey imposes new curfew in battered Cizre

Mahmut Bozarslan
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Relatives and mourners gather around the coffins of people killed during clashes between Turkish forces and militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Cizre, on September 13, 2015

Relatives and mourners gather around the coffins of people killed during clashes between Turkish forces and militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Cizre, on September 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ilyas Akengin)

Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP) - Turkey on Sunday restored an open-ended curfew in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Cizre to catch Kurdish militants, just two days after ending a hugely controversial identical order.

The new measure came into effect at 1600 GMT after thousands of Cizre locals turned out for the funerals of 16 people killed in violence during the previous nine-day curfew that also left several buildings in ruins.

With over one-and-a-half months of fighting between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) showing no sign of abating, three police officers were killed by Kurdish militants in two separate attacks in the southeast.

"To ensure the security of our people's lives and property during the arrest of members of the Separatist Terror Organisation, a curfew has been announced in Cizre from 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) until further notice," said the statement from the office of the Sirnak region's governor Ali Ihsan Su, using the government's term for the PKK.

The Turkish government said that up to 32 Kurdish militants were killed during the previous curfew imposed in Cizre in an "anti-terror" operation against suspected PKK members.

But the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has said 21 civilians were dead after the operation, which deprived residents of access to essential amenities and triggered food shortages.

The coffins of 16 victims draped in the yellow, red and green Kurdish colours were earlier taken through Cizre in a funeral ceremony attended by thousands of mourners.

Distraught relatives embraced the coffins which were emblazoned with pictures of the dead, an AFP photographer reported.

The operation in Cizre, a city of 120,000 on the border with Syria and close to Iraq, was a key part of the government's drive to cripple the PKK in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, which started in late July.

- Curfew in Diyarbakir -

A curfew meanwhile was also imposed in parts of the central Sur district of Diyarbakir city, as the authorities conducted a new anti-PKK operation.

A statement from the local governor's office said the curfew had been put in place at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) and would last until further notice.

Television pictures showed police roadblocks preventing access to the historical centre of Diyarbakir within its famous dark-hued city walls.

There were clashes during the operation in which seven police officers were wounded, Turkish media said.

Two police officers were killed and five wounded on a highway outside the city of Sirnak in a PKK car bomb attack, security sources sources told AFP.

Security forces in assault helicopters then pursued the militants suspected of carrying out the attack. Five "terrorists" were killed, the office of the regional governor said.

One policeman died and one more was wounded in a PKK rocket attack in the Silvan district of the southeastern region of Diyarbakir. The authorities then imposed a curfew in several areas of Silvan.

Three suspected PKK members were also killed and large amounts of weaponry seized in a three-day operation around Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, the governor's office said.

Suspected PKK militants set on fire a cable car station at Sarikamis in the eastern Kars region, one of Turkey's biggest ski resorts, state media said.

- 'Return to talks' -

Speaking in Diyarbakir, HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas said the situation showed the need for a return to peace talks.

"We call on all the parties to take into account the public's expectations," he said in televised comments.

Demirtas said both "Ankara and Qandil" had to respond to public pressure for peace, referring to both the Turkish government and the PKK's leadership based in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq.

The spate of violence has shattered a 2013 ceasefire aimed at finding a final peace deal to end the PKK's three-decade insurgency, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The PKK initially took up arms in 1984 with the aim of establishing an independent state for Turkey's Kurdish minority, although lately the demands have focused on greater autonomy and rights.

"In Cizre, in Diyarbakir there is a problem, it's called the Kurdish problem," said Demirtas. "It's the problem of Kurds being able to live freely on their own land with their own language, culture and history."

The state-run Anatolia news agency said 118 members of the security forces had died in the current flare up of violence.

In figures not possible to independently verify, it also said 1,192 Kurdish militants had been killed.