Turkey-PKK conflict: UN report tells of '2,000 dead' since truce collapse

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People stand among the rubble of damaged buildings following heavy fighting between government troops and Kurdish fighters in the Kurdish town of Cizre on 2 March 2016Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Buildings in the town of Cizre suffered heavy damage in fighting last year

When a man in the Turkish town of Cizre was told his sister had been killed, his family was invited to pick up her remains from the public prosecutor's office.

But all they received were three small pieces of charred flesh - and no information on how she died.

His February 2016 account is included in a new UN report on Turkish government operations in the country's mainly Kurdish south-east, which found some 2,000 people were killed in 18 months of fighting.

The report accuses Turkish forces of serious human rights violations but Turkey describes it as "biased" and "far from professional".

The killings, disappearances and instances of torture documented in the report took place during a surge in violence after the ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) broke down in July 2015.

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In the case of the woman killed in Cizre, whose name was not published in the report, UN investigators found that, when her sister called for those responsible to be punished and she tried to pursue legal action, she was charged with terrorism offences.

As well as thousands killed or detained, the UN says between 350,000 and 500,000 people were displaced by the fighting between July 2015 and December 2016.

Satellite imagery also showed the "enormous scale of destruction of the housing stock by heavy weaponry".

But despite the serious allegations, "no credible investigation has been conducted" by the Turkish government, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said.

The government had "contested the veracity of the very serious allegations made" in the report, he said.

Later the Turkish foreign ministry condemned the report in a statement.

"The 'report' about anti-terror operations in the southeast is biased, based on false information and far from professional," it said.

"We do not accept the unfounded allegations in the report which correspond exactly to the terrorist group's propaganda," it added, referring to the PKK.

The UN Human Rights Office report relied on confidential and public accounts, satellite imagery and other sources because the Turkish government has failed to grant investigators access to the areas affected by anti-PKK operations.

It recorded incidents that took place during government operations that affected more than 30 towns and neighbourhoods. The most serious abuses took place during periods of curfew imposed for several days at a time, it said.

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The UN wants to investigate allegations that Turkish forces massacred around 100 civilians in Cizre.

For its part, the Turkish government did provide investigators with information indicating that the PKK, which the administration considers a terrorist organisation, "had conducted a number of violent attacks that caused deaths and injuries among Turkish security forces and other individuals".

The PKK has also been involved, according to the government, in "kidnappings, including of children; digging trenches and placing roadblocks in cities and towns; and preventing medical services from delivering emergency health services".

Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency in its south-east for decades.

The PKK launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984, calling for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey.

Since then, tens of thousands of people have died.