Military plans operation after deadly rocket assault
The attack comes a day after the prime minister offered to cease military operations.
By J. Paul Barker for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 19/09/12
The government launched what it calls a "major operation" against the terrorist organisation PKK following a rocket attack on Tuesday (September 18th) that killed 10 soldiers and injured more than 70.
Turkish soldiers secure the main road that connects Bingol and Mus, as smoke rises from a burning vehicle in the background after a PKK attack. [Reuters]
The attack was on a convoy travelling between Bingöl and Muş in eastern Turkey. Authorities said militants fired a rocket at a bus full of soldiers and opened fire from both sides of the road.
"They launched two rockets from a hill, striking one of the vehicles. It went up in a ball of flame," a village guard told Doğan news agency.
"The rocket was launched far from the convoy by the militants. According to our information, this was an attack by the PKK," a governorate spokesman said.
Turkish forces launched a "major operation" in response to the ambush, including deploying attack helicopters, the spokesman told Turkish media.
The attack came one day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered to stop military operations against the PKK if the group would cease hostilities, noting that more than 500 Kurdish rebels have been killed or caputured in the last month. Erdogan called an meeting with Chief of the General Staff Necdet Ozel in Ankara on Tuesday evening in response to the attack.
The attack is the second major assault against security forces this week. Eight police officers were killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb in Bingol.
The conflict is the bloodiest it has been in a decade, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said. In a report this month, the organisation noted that more than 700 people have been killed in fighting in southeast Turkey in the last 14 months.
The group is encouraging a political, rather than a military, solution.
"The government and mainstream media should resist the impulse to call for all-out anti-terrorist war and focus instead on ensuring rights and justice together with Turkey's legitimate Kurdish leaders, principally working through parliament and political parties," Hugh Pope, the group's Turkey/Cyprus project director, said. "The Kurdish movement must pressure the PKK to halt its terrorist attacks, and the government must reform oppressive laws that jail non-violent Kurdish movement politicians."
Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based think tank, said the attack was to be expected, given the current environment.
"Since the summer the PKK has adopted a much more aggressive strategy trying to leverage the changing regional dynamics," he told SES Türkiye.
"The political cycle is unfortunately not conducive to the emergence of a new framework for stopping the violence. The PKK through its increased violence has successfully eliminated the opportunities for any political initiative," he said.
The International Crisis Group report also urged the government to act on the Kurdish community's primary demands: the right to education in mother languages for all in Turkey; amend the constitution and laws to eliminate discrimination; reduce the threshold for election to parliament from 10 percent to the European norm of 5 percent; and implement decentralisation of power to all Turkey's 81 provinces.
"Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should seize the opportunity to return to the track of democratic reforms," Sabine Freizer, the group's Europe program director, said. "If the government can guarantee the Kurds of Turkey full equality and rights, support would drop for armed struggle and the PKK, and Turkey and the PKK would be much better placed to negotiate disarmament and demobilization."
SES Türkiye correspondent Tulin Daloglu in Ankara also contributed to this report.