Tourists missing in Turkey: Britons disappear in rebel area, reports Hugh Pope in Istanbul

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A BRITISH couple were reported missing yesterday on a mountain in south-eastern Turkey, scene of more violence when Kurdish rebels massacred 32 Kurdish villagers whom they had accused of failing to assist them in their struggle for an independent state. David Rowbottom, a former British Petroleum employee in London, and his girlfriend, Tanya Miller, a dual national from Queensland, Australia, both about 28, had set out from a campsite in Tatvan by bicycle at dawn on Sunday for a one-day climb to the crater of Mount Nemrut near Lake Van.

Another camper said the couple were aware of the dangers and left valuables at the camp site, fully intending to return. Police and gendarmes were searching in helicopters on the mountainside, where a group of German tourists were abducted by Kurdish rebels two years ago. Britain advises tourists to avoid the region.

In a remote Kurdish village 200 miles (320km) west of Lake Van, in Erzincan province on Monday night 60 guerrillas herded 27 men into a mosque and shot them dead, the government spokesman, Yildirim Aktuna, said. Five women died when the guerrillas set fire to 50 of the 57 houses.

'It was pure terrorism. Survivors told us that the rebels lectured them with propaganda, asked them why they weren't helping the Kurdish cause. Then they shot them,' said a local Turkish reporter.

It was the worst rebel massacre since May in a conflict that has killed more than 6,300 people since 1984, including several other clashes yesterday. While the rebels seem intent on imposing unity on the Kurds through a reign of fear, the Turkish government also remains intransigent.

Turkey's top generals made a grim- faced 'congratulatory visit' to the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, on Monday just before her government programme won a vote of confidence in parliament. The generals wanted to underline the military's fears that Turkey's secular state was in danger after a mainly Sunni Muslim crowd burnt down a hotel in Sivas, where a group of visiting left-wing, pro- Alawite intellectuals had taken refuge. Thirty-six people died.

But the army is also extremely concerned about events in south-eastern Turkey, which are coming close to all- out war since the collapse in May of a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Marxist rebels in March. Mrs Ciller has made clear that she stands four- square with the Turkish nationalist camp on the Kurdish question. She has banished any talk of political or cultural concessions.

'If they escalate things, we will escalate it. I have not lost any battle, I have never been unsuccessful,' she told the Hurriyet newspaper.