Retaliatory Turkish air raids kill 100 rebel Kurds

Up to 100 Kurdish rebels have been killed in six days of air strikes on northern Iraq, Turkey's military said yesterday.

The raids are the first by Turkey in the mountains of northern Iraq in more than a year and are in retaliation for an escalation of guerrilla attacks following the collapse of efforts to negotiate a settlement to the 27-year-old conflict.

In the town of Rania, in Iraq's northern Kurdish region, relatives of seven Iraqis, including children, killed in an air strike on Sunday – the first civilian casualties since the raids began last Wednesday – questioned the Turkish tactics.

The attacks have angered residents of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, a relatively safe haven in war-torn Iraq where Turkish investors have flocked in recent years to build homes, offices and shopping malls.

"They were just farmers. They didn't cause problems for anyone. I want to ask why they were killed," said one local, Yaqub Mustafa.

At least 2,000 people protested on Sunday in Rania as the victims were buried, said the mayor, Barham Ahmed Hama Rasheed, who called on the UN to intervene. A Turkish military statement said warplanes had struck 132 targets of the rebel PKK, which uses the region as a base to launch attacks on Turkey in its fight for Kurdish self-rule.

"According to initial information, 90 to 100 terrorists were rendered ineffective,"said the general staff, using an expression referring to the killing of militants. "The air and ground operations will continue."

The Turkish government and the military say air strikes are to deny rebels a haven from which to attack Turkey.