Hundreds return to Turkish city after eight-month curfew

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Sirnak (Turkey) (AFP)

Hundreds of people, including children, returned to the devastated Kurdish-dominated city of Sirnak in southeast Turkey on Monday after an eight-month curfew was relaxed, an AFP photographer said.

Since March, Sirnak has been under curfew between 5am (0200 GMT) and 10pm (1900 GMT) as the Turkish military pursued a relentless campaign against Kurdish rebels.

The curfew has now been shortened to seven hours and will remain in place from 10pm to 5am.

There was renewed fighting in the Kurdish-majority southeast after a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) collapsed last year.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency since 1984.

As residents returned to their damaged homes in the city centre, the majority found their houses uninhabitable following clean-up operations to rid the rebels from the area, the photographer said.

Some of the returnees, who came from other parts of Sirnak and Mardin province, were forced to cook outdoors because the city has no electricity or water, the photographer said.

Schools and mosques were also damaged during the fighting, sparking tears and anger among the locals.

"These were our homes, these were where our memories were, this was where our furniture was," one resident wailed.

"Now we are left alone, what will happen to us?" the resident said.

Many will be forced to live with family or friends while their homes are rebuilt and damaged homes are demolished.

A crisis centre has been set up in the city to help those affected, local media reported.

Three schools had to be demolished while five were damaged, Dogan news agency reported, adding that some had reopened.

The Sirnak governor's office meanwhile asked residents to immediately report any suspicious package, cable or device to the security forces, Dogan said.

The curfew was imposed from March 14 as part of an operation to remove barricades and explosives planted by Kurdish rebels and to restore public order, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Ankara has vowed to wipe out the PKK, classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, and has conducted several military operations against the group.

According to Anadolu, over 7,000 PKK militants have been killed since July last year and more than 600 Turkish security forces killed during clashes and attacks by the PKK. Since 1984, more than 40,000 have lost their lives in the insurgency.

It is not possible to independently verify the toll.