Kurds clash with soldiers in Turkey


CIZRE, Turkey -- Clashes in southeastern Turkey have left six soldiers and four Kurdish separatists dead, the Anatolia news agency reported yesterday.

The soldiers were killed in an ambush near Cizre on Monday. Earlier in the day, the separatists were killed in a clash with an army patrol.

The Turkish government's reluctance in early April to accept thousands of Iraqi Kurds fleeing President Saddam Hussein's repression has put further pressure on Turkey's already strained relationship with its own Kurdish minority.

Turkish-Kurdish relations traditionally have been difficult. They were increasingly more so with the advent of the PKK, a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group that has been fighting since 1984 to establish an independent state. Turkey's southeast region has been governed under emergency law since 1987 to crack down on PKK violence.

Many Kurds are adamant that the government deliberately delayed distributing aid supplies and even blocked efforts of local Kurds to provide relief.

"The only aid coming from the Turkish government came from the Red Crescent. If the Turkish Kurds had not dug deeply in their pockets, thousands more would have died," said Ali, a local shopkeeper from Cizre.

The majority of Kurds -- between 12 million and 15 million -- live in the southeast region. That region has suffered severe economic losses since August, when the Turkish government closed its border with Iraq in compliance with United Nations sanctions. Small towns such as Cizre, which were wholly dependent on transit trade and smuggling, have been paralyzed economically.

Ali, 40, said he was not afraid to support an independent Kurdish state. "I will not send my four boys to school, but to guerrilla camps," he added.

Kurds in Cizre, well-known as the urban center for PKK support, are cynical about Turkey's recent decision to lift the ban on speaking the Kurdish language, arguing that they spoke it anyway.

"It was a propaganda move to appease the EC [European Community] and America," said Ali.

Some Kurds claim that relations with the Turks soured before the refugees even crossed the border.

Many Kurds believed that Turkish President Turgut Ozal struck a deal during his April visit with President Bush to not support the Iraqi Kurds during their uprising. During the Persian Gulf crisis, Mr. Ozal said that Turkey was adamantly opposed to a Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

While most Kurds live in southeast Turkey, many have migrated to western cities and occupy senior positions in government and business.

"It is only the PKK which in recent years has caused friction between Turks and Kurds. Before that, there were no issues between us," said a Turkish businessman from Istanbul.

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