Turkish military accused of using chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas

September 04, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- Supporters of Kurdish guerrillas fighting for autonomy in Turkey have charged that Turkish forces used chemical agents to kill Kurdish insurgents.

Turkish miliary authorities vehemently deny the charge. It is impossible to prove either side's contention, although the Kurdish side -- including members of the Kurdish parliamentary party -- has photographs purportedly showing disfigured bodies of Kurdish victims from an alleged chemical attack in June.

A Kurdish burial party retrieved 10 bodies it said were found outside the city of Bingol in June. A battle had been reported two days earlier in that area between Turkish forces and guerrillas of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party.

Members of that burial party said that photographs of burned and blistered bodies given to The Sun by Kurdish sources were of the corpses they brought back for burial.

The photographs show bodies that appear to be burned only where their clothing did not protect them. Their hair, which is not vulnerable to the chemicals believed used, and even their clothes are not singed. Sayin Ferzi Saydinoglu, mayor of the nearby townof Genc and a member of the burial party, said that the skin easily came off the bodies when touched.

Only two of the victims appeared to have suffered gunshot wounds.

"This is definitely a chemical attack," said Terry Gander, an expert on chemical weapons for Jane's Information Group and author of the NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) Handbook.

After examining copies of the photos, he said, "It appears to be a mixture of a blood agent, which has asphyxiated the unfortunates, and a blister agent to damage anybody who moved near the area."

He said that a heavy concentration of the chemicals probably was dropped from beneath the wing of a plane or a helicopter, possibly by dispensers similar to those commonly used to deliver infrared flares.

"If you breathe in the fumes, it affects the way oxygen exchange is taken in the tissue. People die relatively rapidly, a couple of minutes if it's a heavy enough dose," he said.

Mr. Gander said that reports of wounds like those in the photos, caused by a mysterious mixture of blister and blood agents, first surfaced during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "It seems that there is some cocktail of agents being used of which nothing is known on the open market," he said.

A spokesman in Ankara for the Turkish General Staff, the country's military authority, denied that chemical weapons were used against Kurdish guerrillas. "It is impossible," said the spokesman, who would not give his full name. "That's a lie. It's very wrong."

Officials at the U.S. Embassy denied that Turkey could be using chemicals to fight Kurdish separatists.

"There is no evidence that that is happening," said one embassy official.

"We track closely those countries that are capable of producing chemical weapons. . . . The Turks do not have the production facilities, the military hardware. We don't see any evidence that the Turks have any interest in these capabilities."

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