Thousands mourn Turkey air strike victims

 

Thousands of mourners gathered in southeast Turkey
for the funerals of 35 Kurdish civilians who were killed in a
botched raid by Turkish military jets that mistook the group for
Kurdish rebels based in Iraq.


Turkish television footage showed people, many weeping and lamenting the dead, as they gathered after the air strikes Wednesday that killed a group of smugglers along the border, one of the deadliest episodes in the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels who took up arms in 1984.

Noncombatants have often been caught in the war's crossfire, but one of the highest civilian tolls in a single day was sure to further sour relations between the government and ethnic Kurds who have long faced discrimination. A government campaign to reconcile with Kurds by granting them more rights has stalled amid a surge in fighting this year.

Dogan news agency video showed people digging graves on a hill near the southeast village of Gulyazi, home of some of the slain smugglers, and the funeral rites quickly took on a political tone. Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency, said some of the coffins were draped in red, yellow and green, the colors associated with Kurdish identity and the rebel group PKK.

According to Firat, families at the funerals urged the PKK, whose Kurdish acronym stands for Kurdistan Workers' Party, to take revenge and they accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being a "murderer."

The Kurdish conflict is a drag on Turkey's efforts to burnish its image as a regional model and advocate for democratic change in neighboring countries such as Syria, where thousands have died since an uprising began in March.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a chief architect of Turkey's rising profile, said the airstrikes would be thoroughly investigated.

"Whatever are the requirements of a state of law, these will be done. No one can claim that such an event was intentional," Hurriyet newspaper quoted Davutoglu as saying. "This is a sad event, it should not be made a subject for political exploitation. The incident will be investigated and whatever is necessary will be done."

The military issued a message of condolence that was carried on the state-run Anadolu news agency. There was no apology, but such a public outreach is highly unusual in the Turkish armed forces, which are traditionally tightlipped about operations and have seen their political influence decline in recent years.

"We wish God's mercy and grace to those who lost their lives in the cross-border incident of Dec. 28, 2011, and extend our condolences to their family and friends," the statement said.

All of the victims were under age 30 and some were the sons of village guards who have aided Turkish troops in their fight against rebels, according to Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the prime minister's ruling party.

There were conflicting reports about what the men may have been transporting, though cigarettes and diesel fuel are commonly smuggled from Iraq to Turkey, often by horse or donkey over the rugged terrain. Turkish government officials have accused Kurdish rebels of engaging in such illegal trade to generate revenue for their coffers.

AP

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