Turkish warplanes killed at least 35 people in an air strike in southeastern Turkey near the Iraqi border overnight, apparently mistaking smugglers for Kurdish militants, a pro-Kurdish party and local officials said on Thursday.
Turkish warplanes strike militant targets regularly in the region in their battle against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas, and have stepped up raids after a PKK attack in August.
“We have 30 corpses, all of them are burned. The state knew that these people were smuggling in the region. This kind of incident is unacceptable. They were hit from the air,” said Fehmi Yaman, mayor of Uludere in Sirnak province.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) said in a statement 35 people had been killed, adding that party leaders were heading for the area.
The Turkish government was not immediately available for comment.
Smuggling is an important source of income for locals in provinces along the Iraqi border, with many villagers involved in bringing fuel, cigarettes and other goods from Iraqi villages on the other side of the border.
PKK militants also cross the border in these areas.
“There were rumors that the PKK would cross through this region. Images were recorded of a crowd crossing last night, hence an operation was carried out,” a Turkish security official said.
“We could not have known whether these people were (PKK) group members or smugglers,” he said.
Television images showed a line of corpses covered by blankets on a barren hillside, with a crowd of people gathered around, some with their head in their hands and crying.
People loaded the corpses onto donkeys which were led down the hillside to be loaded into vehicles to be taken to hospital in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country.
Security sources said those killed were carrying canisters of diesel on mules and their bodies were found on the Iraqi side of the border.
They said those killed were from Uludere on the Turkish side of the border on what was a regular smuggling route.
The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said 35 villagers, including children, were killed in the strikes.
The Turkish military launched an operation in northern Iraq in October after a PKK attack killed 24 soldiers in the town of Cukurca near the Iraqi border, the army’s biggest loss since 1993.
PKK rebels usually launch attacks on Turkish targets from their rear bases in northern Iraq.
The army then killed 36 Kurdish rebels in Kazan Valley of Hakkari province, near the Iraqi border.
Media reports in Turkey and abroad, as well as the BDP, have accused Turkey of using chemical weapons against the rebels but the army denied the allegations.
The PKK, which took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives, is labeled a terrorist outfit by Ankara and much of the international community.
In related news, Leyla Zana, a deputy from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), was reported as saying by the Today’s Zaman newspaper that the “Kurds should determine their future,” and that autonomy is not enough.
Zana who called for a referendum on independence for Kurds, said “some Kurds in Turkey want autonomy. The question is how many of them want autonomy. There has to be a discussion on this issue as well. I believe Kurds should be able to decide on their future on their own. It is true that we initially demanded autonomy, but today the Kurds in Turkey believe autonomy is not enough.”