ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's prime minister announced Tuesday that military operations against Kurdish rebels have ended in one mainly Kurdish southeastern town. The military is still fighting militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in two other urban areas.
Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters during a visit to London that the operation in Silopi, near the border with Iraq, has ended "successfully," that a 24-hour curfew has now been eased and reconstruction efforts would soon begin.
The security forces launched large-scale operations in Silopi, in the nearby town of Cizre and in Diyarbakir's historic Sur neighborhood to root out militants who set up barricades, dug trenches and primed explosives to keep authorities away. A Turkish human rights group said as many as 162 civilians have died caught up in the fighting since August — 26 of them in Silopi. The military says it has killed 136 militants in the town since the operations there began.
"There may be sporadic incidents, but all of the ditches (in Silopi) have been closed up, all of the barricades have been lifted," Davutoglu said.
A group of more than 1,000 academics last week issued a declaration denouncing the operations, triggering strong criticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which in turn, prompted prosecutors to begin legal proceedings against the scholars over possible charges of propaganda on behalf of the PKK. Close to 20 academics were briefly detained for questioning — leading to an international outcry.
Silopi had been under curfew since December, which barred residents from leaving homes and journalists and observers from witnessing the operations. The governor's office said the 24-hour curfews have been replaced with night-time curfews, which were also expected to be lifted later this week.
Families who had left Silopi to escape the fighting began returning to the town on Tuesday, where signs of extensive fighting were visible, the private Dogan news agency reported. A medical center had been set on fire, shops and homes damages and explosives defused by the security forces in controlled-blasts had left craters on roads, it said.
Video footage showed shopkeepers sweeping glass and other debris from the front of their businesses.
A two-year old peace process between the government and the PKK ended in July, reigniting a more than three-decade old conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. The PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy for Kurds in southeast Turkey, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.