ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish militants, said to have killed more than 5,000 people since July, has also destroyed at least 6,000 buildings that will cost approaching 1 billion lira ($340 million) to rebuild, according to a government estimate.
Large swathes of towns in the mainly Kurdish southeast have been devastated by daily shelling, blasts and gunfire in battles that are still raging, even as President Tayyip Erdogan says the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is in its “death throes”.
Turkish warplanes struck overnight at PKK gun positions and shelters in Semdinli by the border with Iraq and Iran, the army said. The fighting, at its most intense in two decades, resumed after a two-year-old ceasefire collapsed last July.
A day earlier, roadside bombs killed at least six people in two attacks on security forces in the southeast. Air strikes in northern Iraq’s Metina area have killed 14 PKK fighters since last Wednesday, the army said.
As fighting continued, the government of new Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 6,320 buildings, or 11,000 dwellings, had been destroyed in five areas alone: Sur in Diyabakir, Silopi, Cizre and Idil in Sirnak province and Yuksekova in Hakkari.
“We now face a process of planning reconstruction and repairing damaged houses,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said after a cabinet meeting on Monday, estimating the cost of rebuilding in the areas at 855 million lira ($290 million).
Lawmaker Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat of the pro-Kurdish HDP was dismissive of the reconstruction plans in ancient places like Sur and Cizre, where the “historic fabric had been wiped away”.
“They are deluding themselves and trying to cover up their crimes,” he told Reuters. “If they are think they can win over the local people like this they are wrong. The destruction of these towns has caused an emotional rupture.”
Some 338 civilians, including 78 children, have died in the conflict since last summer, and curfews violated the rights of 1.6 million people, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation said. Ankara says 355,000 people have migrated to other parts of Turkey.
“These are the last death throes of the separatist terror group,” Erdogan told a crowd waving Turkish flags and chanting “damn the PKK” in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir overnight.
Military sources say 5,000 PKK militants have been killed since the conflict resumed, around half in southeast Turkey and half in northern Iraq, where the PKK has bases. They put the death toll for Turkish security forces at around 500.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies, launched its insurgency in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Alongside destruction of housing, nine mosques and two churches in Sur alone have suffered damage, a local official told journalists taken under escort to the area on Tuesday.
The 500-year-old Kursunlu mosque’s facade is pockmarked by gunfire, its interior burned out and sandbags in its windows testament to fighting there, a Reuters witness said.
The Roman-era basalt walls which surround Sur district were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015. Weeks later, the armed conflict was reignited.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara, Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Writing by Daren Butler, editing by Larry King