DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey will take the fight to Kurdish militants in the southeast to prevent them from “spreading the fire” from neighboring Syria and Iraq into the country, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday, as violence flared up again.
Since the collapse of a ceasefire with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in July, the mainly Kurdish southeast has been wracked by clashes between security forces and PKK fighters and subjected to frequent curfews.
On Monday, two men were shot dead in the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir, while security forces have killed six militants in the province of Mardin since Friday.
Clashes broke out early on Tuesday in Diyarbakir and one policeman was injured, security sources said.
Gunfire and explosions rang out overnight in the town of Nusaybin on the Syrian border after a curfew was imposed, with one blast cutting power to some areas, while police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters, witnesses said.
Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara that security forces would crack down on the PKK militants to frustrate efforts to “spread the fire” from Iraq and Syria to Turkey.
“Security operations are being conducted,” he said. “We will turn all districts including Cizre and Silopi within this ring of fire into a place of peace, stability and freedom,” he said.
In the towns of Cizre and Silopi near the Syrian and Iraqi border, which were placed under curfew on Monday evening, police armored vehicles were deployed on hills overlooking the towns and the streets there were quiet overnight, witnesses said.
They said the Habur border gate to Iraq, located some 18 km (11 miles) south of Silopi, was closed overnight as a result of the curfew and closure of the main highway through the town.
Davutoglu said the army had established control along the mountainous Iraqi border after “cleansing the mountains of terrorists” and that the PKK had then focused on turning people against the state in urban areas.
“We will not make concessions to terror and will not tolerate in any way these structures which are pawns of various foreign forces who want to drag Turkey into a dark future,” he said.
Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist with the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, sensed in Davutoglu’s recent comments that preparations were under way to step up anti-PKK operations.
“This time, the emphasis in operations will be more on soldiers,” he said. “The prime minister has spoken quite decisively, saying ‘all districts will be cleansed of terrorist elements, from street-to-street, house-to-house if necessary’.”
According to data compiled by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, 52 curfews have been imposed since mid-August across seven Turkish provinces in the region, affecting areas where some 1.3 million people live.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group launched its insurgency in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Peace talks between its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan and the state ground to a halt early this year. It is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Writing by Daren Butler; editing by David Dolan and Estelle Shirbon