Kurdish rebels ambush troops: Confusion in Turkey over ceasefire between government forces and insurgents

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The Independent Online
THE cold-blooded massacre of 35 Turks discovered yesterday in south-eastern Turkey has thrown into confusion a tentative peace process to end a nine- year-old rebellion by the country's ethnic Kurdish insurgents.

Thirty-three Turkish privates in civilian clothes and two civilians were killed in a dusk ambush by a 150-strong Kurdish band. A main road through the mountains near Bingol was blocked from both directions, trapping several cars and a bus full of soldiers returning from a drivers' training course.

Passengers were forced out on to the road and their identities were checked. The insurgents then torched five government- owned vehicles and abducted soldiers and civilians, raking the group with gunfire shortly afterwards. Thirteen soldiers survived, some of them injured. The armed wing of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) says it took part in the Bingol action and claims 41 soldiers were killed after guerrillas were fired on while 'conducting a road control'. Turkey says it has caught up with the rebel groups with helicopters and killed seven of them.

The attack seemed timed to coincide with the moment that the Turkish authorities had at last indirectly responded to a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Kurdish insurgents two months ago. If so, it had the required effect. The acting Prime Minister, Erdal Inonu, postponed decisions made on Monday by both the civilian-military National Security Council and the cabinet to grant a partial amnesty to the 10,000-strong guerrilla army of the PKK.

Experts and Kurdish sources were confused by the attack, which they said was not in the interests of the exiled PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and his recent attempts to be seen by both Turks and Kurds as a man wanting peace and political rehabilitation. Mr Ocalan has not clearly defined what he wants for Turkey's Kurds, wavering between an independent Kurdish state for the 20 million Kurds in the Middle East and, latterly, cultural autonomy within Turkey.

It was the first attack since 20 March, but was one of a number of rebel actions in recent days. Some experts speculated it was the work of a local commander unhappy at the peace moves.

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