ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish security forces have completed operations against Kurdish militants in a border town after weeks of fighting, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Thursday, raising hopes that a lockdown could be lifted.
Authorities imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Cizre, near Turkey’s frontiers with both Iraq and Syria, on Dec. 14 in a bid to root out armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who had dug trenches and erected barricades.
Fighting there has killed at least 79 civilians, according to the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the biggest party in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Another 66 bodies are now at a morgue or trapped in a basement but have yet to be identified, the HDP said.
The PKK have traditionally concentrated on rural areas in their battle for greater autonomy, but moved it to urban centers like Cizre last year, raising the civilian death toll.
Six PKK fighters were killed in Cizre on Wednesday, while 12 corpses of militants who were killed earlier were recovered, the military said on Thursday.
In Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region, five PKK fighters were killed on Wednesday, it said. A curfew in Diyarbakir’s Sur district has been in effect since Dec. 2 and showed no signs of easing.
At least 129 civilians have perished in Sur, Cizre and the nearby town of Silopi since December, the HDP said. Dozens of militants and police and soldiers have also been killed.
“The operations in Cizre were completed in a very successful fashion,” Ala said in comments broadcast live by TRT channel, without going into further detail.
“The curfew will continue for a while longer. There are traps and mines in certain areas that could harm people. Closing the ditches and removing barricades will take a bit of time.”
A ceasefire with the PKK collapsed in July, wrecking a 2-1/2 year peace process that had been widely seen as Turkey’s best chance at ending three decades of strife in the restive southeast.
About 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died since the PKK took up arms in 1984.
Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens