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Turkey blocks investigations into rights abuses in southeast: HRW

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish army soldiers stand guard as Kurdish people wait in a hope to enter Cizre, a town subject to a curfew, on March 22, 2016. (AFP photo)

Turkish officials are barring independent investigators from probing alleged cases of mass rights abuses against residents of the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

The Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday that the government’s refusal to grant access to the United Nations officials for an investigation into abuse cases was concerning.

“The Turkish government's effective blockade of areas of the southeast fuels concerns of a major cover up,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW's senior researcher on Turkey.

The New York-based rights group called on the government to grant the access so that the allegations could be probed.

Southeastern Turkey has been the scene of deadly fighting between Kurdish militants and the military over the past months. The fighting escalated after Ankara declared the collapse of years-long peace negotiations with the Kurds last summer and began imposing curfew in Kurdish-dominated areas.

The UN and rights bodies have repeatedly regretted that round-the-clock curfews imposed in the conflict-ridden areas in the southeast have barred media and international organizations from carrying out independent reporting.

The HRW also accused the military of involvement in various rights abuses, including “unlawful killings of civilians, mass forced displacement, and widespread unlawful destruction of private property.”

It said in its report that armed clashes in nine most-affected towns, including Cizre, have displaced more than 355,000 people and killed at least 338 civilians. It added that most of the casualties were in neighborhoods where militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had erected barricades and dug trenches.

The report said Turkish forces fired on civilians carrying white flags in Cizre, saying deaths were recorded in areas where no clashes happened.

“The available information also indicates that security forces surrounded three buildings and deliberately and unjustifiably killed about 130 people,” read the report.

The HRW senior researcher said such large-scale abuses of civilians’ rights should ring the alarm bells loud, saying there are credible accounts showing that Turkish security forces were deliberately killing civilians.

A woman looks at a building, which was damaged during the security operations and clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish militants, in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province, Turkey, March 2, 2016. (Reuters photo)

She called for a full and transparent investigation into all allegations of abuse by state forces and armed groups so that justice can be served for the victims.

An unidentified official in the Turkish government slammed the HRW report, saying it was “completely inaccurate.”

“Turkey is operating in a transparent manner to fight a terrorist organization that kills not only members of the security forces but also innocent civilians,” said the official.

Turkey says it has managed to kill thousands of militants affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in its massive operations in the southeast. Many challenge the figure, saying many of those killed were civilians.

According to official figures, around 600 Turkish soldiers, police forces and village guards have also been killed since the fighting flared up in July 2015.

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