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 Kurdish survivors do not believe Turkish air strike attack was blunder

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Kurdish survivors do not believe Turkish air strike attack was blunder  31.12.2011  

Kurdish people mourn for victims of a Turkish air raid, at the cemetery of Gulyazi Village, Sirnak province, near the Iraqi Kurdistan border, on December 30, 2011. Photo: Getty Images

Kurds mourn for victims of a Turkish air raid, at the cemetery of Gulyazi Village, on December 30, 2011. Thousands of irate Kurds today buried 35 civilian Kurds killed in a Turkish air raid. Photo: Getty Images

Members of the Kurdish community in France burn a portrait of Turkish PM on December 30, 2011 in Marseille, France, during a protest against an air strike by Turkish air force on civilian Kurds, killed 35 Kurdish villagers. Photo: Getty Images
December 31, 2011

GULYAZI, The Kurdish region of Turkey, — Survivors and witnesses of a Turkish air strike that killed 35 Kurdish villagers as they smuggled goods on Friday questioned the army's account that they had mistaken them for Kurdish rebels.

"A 10-year-old, a 13-year-old cannot be terrorists," said Servet Encu, one of the survivors of Wednesday night's airstrike, referring to some of the victims of the attack.

For many of those smuggling goods across Turkey's border with Iraq that night were youngsters -- and according to the survivors, a few were making the journey for the first time.

"We have used those roads to smuggle goods from Iraq since our grandfathers' time," Encu said.

"And soldiers know that well," another survivor said.

"We were not carrying arms and the mules were carrying only a few cylinders of gas and bags of sugar," Encu said.

The lightness of their load should have made it obvious the travellers were not fighters, he added, for the separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) travel with fewer mules, which would be fully loaded.

On Wednesday evening, a group of around 40 people travelling with about 50 mules left Ortasu village in southeast Turkey to buy goods over the border in Iraq.

The group loaded up with gas, sugar and cigarettes to bring back and sell illegally in Turkey.

As the smugglers returned to Turkey, their lookout men on the Turkish side of the border warned that soldiers had blocked all three access roads that smugglers used to get home.

"I and another lookout friend saw two teams of soldiers blocking all the roads," said a 30-year-old lookout, who asked to remain anonymous.

"We called (the group) and told them soldiers were there and they should turn back to Iraq to not get caught," he said.

Another survivor said the group had hidden their mules in Iraq and headed to their villages in Turkey.

But as they returned, Turkish F-16 warplanes began their attack, dropping bombs on the convoy, the two survivors said.

"When we saw the group in front of us take the first hit, we started to run away towards Iraq," one survivor, a 20-year-old Kurdish man, said.

Encu was among the group that was hit first. Although he escaped unscathed, he said he was the only survivor in a group of some 20 people.

"There were people among us who crossed for the first time, students who need money for school," Encu, said.

"I was the oldest in the group," the 31-year-old father-of-five added.

"We heard the planes and blasts. Villagers called out to the soldiers and asked what happened. They told us everything was all right," the lookout man added.

A day after the attack, as anger grew among the Kurdish community here, the military said that they had targeted the convoy thinking they were fighters of the separatist PKK.

And on Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "Images transmitted by drones showed a group of 40 people in the area, it was impossible to say who they were."

Speaking to journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan expressed his regret for what he called an "unfortunate and distressing" incident.

But local Kurds do not believe them.

Already Thursday, at the state hospital of Uludere, one 19-year-old survivor said soldiers had phoned his village chief to say they could come and pick up the bodies of the smugglers.

"How could they know the dead people were smugglers if it is a mistake?" he asked.

All three locals said that last month villagers had crossed the border much more comfortably, as soldiers withdrew from near the border with the approach of winter.

"If those killings had not happened, I am sure, tonight, at least 200 people would be crossing into Iraq," Encu said.

Asked if he would go on smuggling goods, he replied: "What else I can do?

"If I don't do it, my son will."

Since August 17, Turkish jets repeatedly carried out air strikes against the Kurdish PKK separatist group's bases in Iraqi Kurdistan region, under justification of chasing elements of the anti-Ankara PKK, forcing large numbers of Kurdish citizens of those areas to desert their home villages, including an air raid that killed 7 Kurdish civilians in a village north of Kurdistan’s Sulaimaniyah city on August 21, 2011.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

Copyright © 2011, respective author or news agency, AFP | | Agencies


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