ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey hit a senior Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) official at a refugee camp in northern Iraq, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, in the first Turkish confirmation of an air strike on the camp which Ankara says is a haven for Kurdish militants.
Erdogan had warned last week that Turkey would target the Makhmour camp, which shelters thousands of Turkish Kurds, and Iraqi officials said on Saturday that Turkey carried out an air strike there which killed three people.
Erdogan said that Selman Bozkir, who he said was a senior PKK official and manager of the Makhmour camp, had been “neutralised” – a term Turkish authorities use for targets who have been killed or wounded.
Ankara would not allow the PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeast Turkey, to use Makhmour “as an incubator for terrorism”, Erdogan said in a Tweet.
An Iraqi security official said PKK officials at the camp had prevented police from entering the camp after the air strike, and declined to share details of the casualties.
Turkey has taken its decades-old conflict with Kurdish militants deep into northern Iraq, establishing military bases and deploying armed military drones against the fighters in their mountain strongholds.
Most of the operations have focused on territory up to 30 km (20 miles) from the border. But Makhmour lies further inside Iraq, and Saturday’s strike on the camp prompted dozens in Iraq’s Kurdish province of Sulaimaniya to march in protest.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited Ankara last week and said she told officials that “any attack targeting civilians at Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international and humanitarian law”.
The camp was established in the 1990s when thousands of Kurds from Turkey crossed the border in a movement Ankara says was deliberately provoked by the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union.
It has fought an insurgency against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans in Istanbul and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)