Turkey should resist urge for war with Kurdish militants -ICG
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's Kurdish conflict is at its bloodiest in more than a decade but Ankara should resist the urge for an all-out military offensive and tackle the legitimate grievances of the country's millions of Kurds, a think-tank said on Tuesday.
Turkey has seen a dramatic rise in violence over the past year with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants launching more and more brazen attacks. Suicide bombings and kidnappings have in turn drawn a harsh military response from Ankara.
More than 700 people have been killed since parliamentary elections in June last year, making this the deadliest period since the capture of the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report.
"Stepping up the struggle to wipe out the insurgency by physical frontal assault, even if understandable, will never be enough to solve the conflict and will bring thousands of deaths that will push more Kurdish youths to take up arms," it said.
"The government and mainstream media should resist the impulse to call for all-out anti-terrorist war and focus instead, together with Kurds, on long-term conflict resolution."
Four times as many people have died in the last year than in 2009, the ICG said, with some 400 PKK fighters, more than 200 security personnel, and at least 84 civilians among the dead.
The Turkish military said on Monday 88 of its soldiers had been killed between the start of the year and September 6, more than 10 troop deaths per month. At least three more soldiers have been reported killed since then.
But as the PKK has increased its attacks so Ankara has returned to its hardline stance against the militants, who have been fighting the state since 1984.
Last week the military carried out an offensive in the southeast involving some 2,000 troops as well as war planes and attack helicopters. F-16 fighter jets also struck suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq.
GOVERNMENT "ZIGZAGGED" ON REFORMS
With more than 40,000 people killed since the start of the conflict almost 30 years ago, Turks and Kurds alike now increasingly concede that military action will not solve their problem, the ICG said in the report.
"What has been missing is a clear conflict resolution strategy, implemented in parallel with measured security efforts to combat armed militants, to convince Turkey's Kurds that their rights will be gradually but convincingly extended," it said.
"Above all, politicians on all sides must legalize the rights most of Turkey's Kurds seek, including mother-language education; an end to discriminatory laws; fair political representation; and more decentralization."
While Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, which swept to a third election victory last June, has broken taboos notably with reforms relating to the Kurdish language, it has "zigzagged" in its commitment to Kurdish rights, ICG said.
Legal Kurdish factions and the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, have also given contradictory signals, it said, making conciliatory statements, calling for mutual truces but with few condemnations of militant attacks.
The ICG urged the PKK to rein in factions that attack and kidnap civilians and for security forces to limit aggressive crowd control. It said both sides should work toward a ceasefire but that the PKK should not use this as a chance to rearm.
With a secure parliamentary majority and presidential elections two years away, Erdogan's ruling AK Party should seize the opportunity now to kick-start democratic reforms that would meet the demands of many of Turkey's Kurds, who make up around a fifth of the country's 75 million people, the ICG said.
"If Turkey is unable to embrace these basic rights, it will show that it has as much a Turkish problem as a Kurdish one," the ICG said.
"Turkey is still in a position of strength and can move forward ... But given rising tensions and restive youth, this window of opportunity may not be open for much longer."
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Angus MacSwan)
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