Mutual accusations emerge over 35 airstrike deaths

Mutual accusations emerge over 35 airstrike deaths

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (2nd R) and Hasip Kaplan (2nd L), who was accused of provoking an attack on a local official, were in Uludere on Saturday. (Photo: AA)

January 02, 2012, Monday/ 17:30:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Journalists on Monday continued to reiterate earlier suspicions regarding the role of the intelligence failure in the death of 35 civilians in the Turkish southeast last Wednesday, while opposition parties leveled accusations at the government both regarding the cancelation of a helicopter allocated for the use of Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to visit the area and six members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who were taken into custody following an assault on a district governor.

Turkish warplanes mistakenly killed 35 smugglers and other villagers in an operation that targeted PKK bases in Iraq last Wednesday night. The government acknowledged that the victims were smugglers, not terrorists. The military said in an earlier statement that the warplanes targeted the group based on intelligence that suggested that a group of weapon-carrying terrorists was heading towards the Turkish border to stage attacks on the military. The victims were from the villages of Ortasu, Gülyazı and Ortabağ in southeastern Şırnak province's Uludere district. The aftermath of the tragedy has also been riddled with questions. The Taraf daily claimed that the airstrike, which was meant to target Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists, was the result of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) providing incorrect intelligence that indicated that villagers, who frequently smuggle in goods at the border, were PKK terrorists.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied that MİT had provided any intelligence at all for the airstrike and referred to Taraf writer Mehmet Baransu as a “rope-walker,” a humiliating term in Turkish, to which Baransu replied by saying that the prime minister knew the truth and he was lying. On Monday, Taraf recalled that Erdoğan in a speech he made after the airstrike verified that the MİT had presented an intelligence report to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) 10 days before the attack. The MİT later issued a statement, denying that any intelligence had been submitted to the General Staff regarding terrorist activity near the zone where the airstrike was conducted. Taraf wrote that on Oct. 14, MİT sent a notice to the General Staff and the Gendarmerie General Command indicating that the PKK would blend in with smugglers to cross into Turkish territory. Taraf also wrote that the TSK had good reason to rely on the intelligence for conducting an operation, as much of what was stated in the notice was confirmed by some wireless communication conversations between PKK members. A second report was submitted to the General Staff from MİT on Dec. 21, Taraf claimed. Neither MİT nor the prime minister responded to the reiterated accusation.

Meanwhile, more details emerged on Monday regarding the role of BDP deputy Hasip Kaplan in an assault on Saturday in Şırnak’s Uludere district on District Governor Naif Yavuz, who offering his condolences to the victims’ families. The Bugün daily reported that Kaplan ordered an attack on the district governor, provoking people in the area saying: “Don’t miss the district governor. He had 35 people killed yesterday, and today he is here to offer his condolences.” Yavuz, who escaped a lynching on Saturday, later in the hospital said that the attackers were not from Uludere. Some of the locals who visited him in the hospital on Sunday also confirmed this. However, Kaplan says he and his fellow BDP members were the ones who came to the rescue. On Sunday, six people, all BDP members, were detained as part of the investigation into the attack. Bugün claimed in its report on Monday that Kaplan was the instigator, quoting his words allegedly uttered as the villagers waited on a soccer field in the area for the district governor to arrive. According to the report, Kaplan said, “There will be no one else visiting except the district governor; do whatever is necessary.” The daily’s report was based on accounts of witnesses who were at a tent set up for the wake for the victims. The witnesses also said their efforts to calm down Kaplan to avoid an incident from breaking out failed, and young people outside who witnesses claimed were members of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), a PKK-related organization, started picking up stones and sticks, which were later used in the attack on Yavuz.

In addition to the claim that Kaplan pointed out the district governor as a target, Bugün reported that the mayor of Şenoba, a region in Uludere, and five other locals filed a complaint against Kaplan on charges of provoking the locals against the district governor. Yavuz will also be given co-plaintiff status in the trial, according to the report.

Another accusation came from the CHP, whose leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, visited the families of the victims on Sunday. A car that was part of the CHP convoy driving from Van province to Şırnak on Sunday collided with a truck. Although no one was seriously injured, the accident was potentially dangerous as indicated by the damage the vehicle received. The trunk of the car appeared to be slashed off by the force of the collision in the pictures that were released after the accident. CHP members said a helicopter allocated by the Governor’s Office for Kılıçdaroğlu and other CHP members to fly them to Şırnak was canceled at the last minute by the Interior Ministry.

In a statement he made during the visit to Uludere, Kılıçdaroğlu said the airstrike tragedy was “unforgiveable.” He said the CHP will make sure that those responsible are punished.

Kaplan also praised the CHP leader’s visit, criticizing Erdoğan for not visiting the area himself and only “putting on a telephone show,” when he called the families of the airstrike victims.

Meanwhile, the CHP on Monday announced that it will be monitoring developments in Uludere closely and that a delegation of six CHP deputies will be visiting the region on Tuesday to examine the situation.

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