Kurds attempt to flee combat area in Turkey

SARAJEVO may seem distant from Kurdistan, but splintered Yugoslav and Soviet republics are springing to mind in Turkey as it treads ever-more dangerous ground in its Kurdish crisis.

The latest round of the eight-year-old insurgency of ethnic Kurds has caused the south-eastern Turkish provincial capital, Sirnak, to be abandoned by almost all its 25,000 Kurdish residents. 'The people of Sirnak are now lost to us,' said the Turkish governor of the town.

The dust of battle and propaganda is yet to lift after the 40 hours of bombardment around Sirnak between 18 and 20 August that damaged many houses. The government says its heavy shellfire was in response to an attack by at least 500 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels on Tuesday. The PKK has tried to distance itself from the action. There are no confirmed reports, but diplomats say about 18 people died, including 14 civilians.

The townspeople are now camped at relatives' houses or on a mountain road along the Iraqi border, adding to the steady de-population of the south-east that has occurred during the past eight years.

The repression of Kurds by Ankara hardly compares with the near-genocidal tactics practised over the border by Baghdad but, despite government claims to have crushed the PKK, the tempo never diminishes.

Several deaths per day are routine, and 4,400 people have died since the insurgency began in 1984. Just this week the PKK burned a train, hauled seven soldiers off a bus and shot them, and attacked an oil pipeline, factories and army outposts.

In response to the recent violence, military and political leaders held an emergency meeting yesterday in Diyarbakir, the regional centre of the south-east, an area that is home to half of Turkey's 12 million Kurds. Public statements reiterated more of the near-bankrupt carrot-and-stick policy pursued in recent years.

As the polarisation between Kurds and Turks grows, the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel's government has less and less room for manoeuvre. Some Turks, such as the 1980 coup leader and ex-president, Kenan Evren, say no more concessions should be made to Kurdish culture because 'Yugoslavia allowed education in everybody's language. It didn't change the result . . . we should use force.'

PARIS - Kurdish demonstrators occupied the State Secretariat for Humanitarian Action in Paris yesterday and said they were holding 15 staff to protest against Turkish repression of Kurdish rebels, Reuter reports. They are demanding that France condemn Turkish army attacks on the Kurdish town of Sirnak.