February 3, 2016 / 12:14 PM / 2 years ago

Hundreds flee conflict-hit area in southeast Turkey as curfew lifted

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Hundreds of people fled a conflict-hit area of southeast Turkey’s largest city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday, taking advantage of the lifting of a curfew to escape any further clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants.

A Reuters witness said people left the city’s Sur district with suitcases, televisions and carpets loaded onto pick-up trucks and handcarts, deserting an area damaged heavily in fighting since a curfew was declared there a month ago.

“It’s always the ordinary people who suffer,” said Mehmet Ceylan, 45, carrying a bundle on his back. “I’ve lived in Sur for years, and I’ve never witnessed a scene like this.”

Hundreds of militants and security force members have been killed since July when a ceasefire collapsed, triggering the worst violence in two decades and wrecking hopes for a peace deal in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 since 1984.

The chief district administrator’s office in Sur on Wednesday declared the lifting of a week-old curfew in Sur’s western parts. However, the eastern side remained under a round-the-clock curfew.

The state says the curfews, also in place elsewhere in the southeast, are imposed so police can remove barricades, explosive devices and ditches set up by the PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Security forces killed five PKK fighters in Sur and another seven in the southeastern town of Cizre on Tuesday, bringing the militant death toll in the two towns to 670 since December, the army said in a statement. It said two soldiers died from their wounds on Wednesday after fresh clashes in Sur.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said it had not been able to communicate for three days with a group of people, some wounded, trapped in a basement in the southeastern town of Cizre, under curfew since mid-December.

At least six of the 31 people in the building, which has largely collapsed, have died over the past two weeks and others are seriously wounded, the HDP said on Wednesday.

The government has denied its security forces are preventing ambulances from reaching the building and has accused militants of firing on emergency workers.

Separately in Istanbul, unidentified gunmen opened fire late on Tuesday on the premises of an Islamic association, killing one man and wounding three others, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

It followed a similar attack on Monday, when two people were killed and seven wounded in an Istanbul suburb after armed assailants fired on a teahouse. Police detained six people in connection with the first shooting, Anadolu said.

It was not clear if the attacks were politically motivated, but they tapped into concerns that violence may spread to Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.

In the western Aegean region, two leftist militants were detained on Tuesday in possession of guns and explosives, media said. Anadolu said one of them was identified as a perpetrator in the 1996 assassination of a member of the Sabanci family of leading industrialists.

Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and David Dolan

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