Turkish group claims chemical weapons used against rebels

Despite denials by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Turkish human rights group is investing claims by activists and MPs from the legal pro-Kurdish party that Ankara used chemical weapons against PKK rebels.

The Turkish Human Rights Association, or IHD, confirmed that the group recently took chemical samples from the clothing of 13 rebels killed in a recent bombing in the Kazan Valley in the east of the country. They are also taking samples from nearby chemical plants, according to the Telegraph.

"One of our branches in the area has acted to investigate whether chemical weapons were used or not,” an IHD spokesman said, the Telegraph reports.

Activists, meanwhile, are circulating pictures of 24 of the dead PKK guerillas killed in the air raid. The corpses are black and dismembered, lying in a morgue in a nearby town. The only explanation for the type of burns the bodies show, according to the activists, is the use of chemical weapons by Turkish forces.

"The statements of both the relatives and eyewitnesses imply the use of chemical weapons. The bodies were completely burned," Ismail Akbulut, an IHD branch chairman said, the Tribune reports. "This allegation definitely has to be investigated."

Akbulut said nearby villagers were told not to drink the local water for two to three days after the bombings.

The allegations, since taken up by Turkey’s legal pro-Kurdish political party, the BDP, have clawed their way into the open in Turkey, which usually looks the other way when confronted by accusations of abuse by the Kurds, who have waged a decades-long fight for autonomy.

Erdogan made a public denial of the claims, calling them “slander,” while in Cannes at the G20 summit. His moderate Islamic government has granted the Kurds more rights, but the PKK has resumed its campaign, which has included the use of suicide bombers.

The government attacks, which began on October 19, appear to have been a response to a series of coordinated raids by the PKK that killed more than 20 Turkish soldiers. The retaliation included Turkish movement into the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq.

This is not the first time Turkey has been accused of using chemical weapons against the PKK. Last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that experts from Hamburg University were shown photographs of similarly scorched bodies from a 2009 strike. They concluded that it was highly probable that chemical substances were used on the victims.