ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish security force campaign against Kurdish militants in the southeast has been largely completed, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was reported as saying on Tuesday, as he outlined plans to maintain tighter control in parts of the region.
Police and military launched operations against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in towns across the mainly Kurdish region last month, after the conflict reignited with the collapse of a two-year-long ceasefire in July.
The army says it killed more than 500 PKK rebels in the campaign, adding to a death toll of more than 40,000 people killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984. The pro-Kurdish HDP party says about 100 civilians have been killed in the fighting.
“The process is to a large extent completed,” Davutoglu was reported as telling reporters on his plane traveling to London.
“It won’t be like with old operations, withdrawing after streets are cleansed. There will be a more orderly security presence,” the Yeni Safak daily quoted him as saying. “The goal is to build a public order ... in which no illegal structure can take control of any streets.”
For much of the 31-year insurgency, conflict has focused in the countryside, but the latest violence has been in urban areas.
The army says during the campaign it has removed trenches and barricades set up by PKK youth wing members to keep security forces out. Thousands of locals have left the towns hit by conflict, many complaining of indiscriminate operations.
Davutoglu’s comments were published after the governor of Sirnak province said a round-the-clock curfew in the town of Silopi, near the Iraqi border, would only be enforced between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Tuesday.
“The operation in Silopi has been completed to a large extent. Ditches have been filled in and barricades lifted. A new security structure will be implemented there,” Davutoglu told a news conference in London broadcast on Turkish television.
Silopi has been at the heart of the government’s campaign, along with the adjacent town of Cizre, bordering Syria, and the historic district of Sur, in mainly Kurdish Diyarbakir province.
He said new security structures would also be established in Cizre and Sur, which remain under 24-hour curfew.
Clashes continued in Sur and in Cizre, where a special forces police officer was killed on Tuesday in fighting with Kurdish militants, security sources said.
Davutoglu also outlined plans to move the administrative centers of Sirnak and Hakkari province, on the Iraq-Iran borders, Milliyet newspaper reported.
His plan has drawn criticism from HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag. “Let’s say you have carried a transfer of the town, where will you be shipping the 6 million people that voted for HDP?” she told HDP lawmakers in parliament.
The PKK, which says it is fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Ankara launched a peace process with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in late 2012, but it ground to a halt early in 2015 ahead of a general election.
President Tayyip Erdogan said last week about 300 police officers and soldiers have died in the conflict since July.
Writing by Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Janet Lawrence