DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish security forces stepped up operations targeting Kurdish militants in southeastern towns on Wednesday, security sources said, as pro-government media detailed plans for a 10,000-strong force to restore state control in the region.
The mainly Kurdish southeast has been beset by conflict between the police and armed forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters since July, when a ceasefire collapsed and left in tatters a peace process launched three years ago.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pledged on Tuesday to prevent the PKK “spreading the fire” from Syria and Iraq to Turkey by imposing control in towns, like the army has done in mountainous areas where the militants are active.
One person was killed in a clash in Cizre near the Syrian border, which was placed under curfew on Monday evening, state officials said. Kurdish Firat news agency described an 11-year-old boy as being shot dead.
Turkish military also said eight Kurdish militants were killed in Cizre on Tuesday after they shot at the soldiers during an operation.
Residents of Silopi, 30 km (20 miles) away near the Iraqi border, said explosions rocked the town early on Wednesday and deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said security forces had begun raiding houses.
“In Silopi, soldiers and police have started to break down doors and conduct raids on houses,” HDP Sirnak deputy Aycan Irmez wrote on Twitter alongside a photo showing dozens of soldiers gathered on a pavement.
“Throughout the night and particularly around 2-3:30 a.m, we heard the noise of intense shelling,” one resident who declined to be named told Reuters. “It is impossible for us to go outside and look. Even going out on the balcony is risky,” he added.
Haberturk newspaper said some 10,000 police and gendarmerie troops were to be deployed in a major operation against PKK militants, removing ditches and barricades erected by them in urban areas to obstruct the movement of security forces.
“Today’s operation and the ones that will follow are essential,” Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said in an interview with broadcaster Bloomberg HT. “How can you have bandits going down into the towns? We will conduct this struggle in a powerful way and continue to do so.”
Another HDP deputy, Ferhat Encu, wrote on Twitter that security forces, backed by tanks, had launched attacks in Silopi and that the town’s state hospital was being used as a base for soldiers and police.
On Tuesday, a roadside bomb ripped through an armored vehicle and killed three policemen in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag told deputies from the party in Diyarbakir on Tuesday that 200,000 people had been displaced in the southeast in recent months as a result of conflict hitting areas under curfew where some 1.3 million people live.
“The Turkish Republic is conducting a special law and special war against one part of society: the Kurds. If the people of Turkey turn their backs to this reality everyone will lose,” she said.
The PKK 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. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Alison Williams