ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to invest up to $12 billion in its impoverished, mainly Kurdish southeast region as part of efforts to drain support for separatist PKK rebels, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
In an interview with the New York Times, Erdogan said his government would also dedicate a state television channel to Kurdish language broadcasting, a measure long sought by Turkey’s large ethnic Kurdish minority.
The moves follow a major eight-day Turkish army ground offensive against PKK guerrillas across the border in northern Iraq as well as months of heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of rebel positions in the mountainous region.
“The fight against terrorism is not only this (military measures). It also has a socioeconomic part, a psychological part, a cultural part,” Erdogan told the New York Times.
Turkey will spend $11 billion to $12 billion over a five-year period to build two large dams and a system of water canals, complete paved roads and remove landmines from fields along the Syrian border, he said.
The new television channel will also include Persian and Arabic and will be running within several months, Erdogan added.
“This will be the most important step providing cultural rights to the region,” he said.
The European Union, which Turkey aims to join, has urged Ankara to boost the language and cultural rights of its Kurdish citizens and to do more to develop the economy of the southeast, long hamstrung by the PKK conflict.
Ankara blames the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, since the group began its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
The EU and the United States, like Turkey, brand the PKK a terrorist group. Washington provided intelligence to Turkey during the recent army offensive against the rebels inside Iraq.
But even Turkey’s generals now say military measures alone cannot end the PKK threat and that they must be accompanied by improvements in the social and economic life of the region.
Turkey is home to around 12 million Kurds, a sixth of the total population. Many Kurds backed Erdogan’s centre-right AK Party instead of Kurdish nationalist parties in parliamentary elections last year in the hope of improved living standards.