Kurdish rebels kill own kind for revenge

BULLET-RIDDLED bodies of Kurdish men, women and children lay before the smouldering rubble of this mountain village yesterday, another gory lesson that there is nothing simple or compromising about the direction of Turkey's increasingly ugly Kurdish conflict.

At least 40 Kurds were killed, many shot in cold blood, by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas fighting in the Kurds' name for an independent Kurdish state.

It was the worst massacre in their eight-year insurgency, possibly a sign of desperation but more likely a declaration of all-out war to match Turkey's new-found zeal.

The band of 100 guerrillas attacked Cevizlidag on Wednesday afternoon and easily overwhelmed 15 defenders dug into outposts around the stone-built, flat-roofed village which, in any other circumstances, would have presented the idyllic scene suggested by its name - Walnut Mountain.

'They shouted at us to surrender, so we did,' said one of few known survivors, sitting with head in hands by the village stream.

'They gathered outside the village. But then army reinforcements began to come. So they shot us, blew up our houses with rocket grenades, and ran away.'

Twenty-four hours later, almost all of the village's 15 houses were still burning or smoking. Bodies were being washed one by one by Muslim imams, wrapped in fresh, white sheets, and laid side-by-side in a mass grave. Keening women in national dress chanted Kurdish laments and relatives sat in disconsolate rows.

Scores of tired Turkish commandos carved crude coffins from trees, kept watch or lounged under the walnut trees. Somewhat incongruously, the Turkish judicial system had also arrived. Two secretaries typed death reports on picnic tables set up in a field as a young state prosecutor collected statements, a pistol tucked into his waistband.

Twenty-one bodies had been collected so far, he said, including 11 women and two children. Another 19 people, mostly women and children, were feared to be under the still-burning rubble of the village.

Two oxen also lay dead, machine-gunned while harnessed to the yoke of a sledge stacked with hay.

The PKK may have attacked to avenge the death of up to 174 of their number on Tuesday during their biggest raid yet over the border from bases in northern Iraq. But the killing of women and children in a number of recent attacks shows that the guerrillas have gone back to a terrorist tactic of intimidation forsworn three years ago as they tried to attract urban Kurdish and Western support.

The villagers' crime in PKK eyes was probably to have accepted arms from the government and to have joined a 34,000-strong militia force of village guards in the south-east.

But villagers often have little choice in the matter, caught in the crossfire between government and guerrillas in remote villages such as Cevizlidag, two hours of bumpy driving from the nearest asphalt road by rocky, narrow, mountain track.

Now these beautiful highlands of the south-east are slowly emptying. Probably no one will live in Cevizlidag again. 'I lost all my grandchildren in one blow,' said an old Kurdish sheikh, 'what do I have to live for, here, any more?'