Turkish media has reported that eight Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters were killed and two captured on Friday in a military operation in Turkey’s Kurdish southeastern city Bitlis.
The operation was launched on 20 February by special forces soldiers said Dogan News Agency who encountered a group of PKK militants in the region. In the ensuing clashes eight PKK members, including three women were killed whilst two were taken prisoner. A Turkish soldier and village guard were injured. The operation also targeted the group’s sanctuaries where arms, ammunition and foodstuffs were found the report said.
Undersecretary to the Interior Minister, Sebahattin Ozturk, spoke to the press about the operation and said “heavy blows are being dealt to the PKK terrorist organisation and will continue until they are eradicated from the area.”
The PKK has not made a statement on the incident but confirmed that four of its members had lost their lives in air raids on 19-20 February in the group’s bases in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq.
The Turkish army has increasingly targeted PKK bases in air raids while clashes have in the countryside have been limited after the recent conflict in cities. The curfews and sieges in several villages and rural regions recently has meant severe rights violations, as reported by Turkey’s Human Rights Association.
The PKK’s top commander Murat Karayilan threw down the gauntlet to Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who had said, “The PKK will be finished by March,” by retorting, “There is only a month to March, we will see what happens.” Clashes are likely to intensify towards the spring as weather conditions become more suitable for asymmetrical warfare, commentators have suggested.
Ruling AKP government officials have instrumentalised the PKK in campaigning for the referendum, effectively equating any party disapproving of the AKP’s aspirations of consolidating executive powers in the presidency with being on the same camp as the PKK.
Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), as well as the majority of smaller parties outside parliament are also campaigning against the reform, which foresees Turkey’s evolution to a presidential system. Analysts have been divided over whether a return to conflict will strengthen or weaken the government’s campaign.