March 7, 1999
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (CNN) -- Kurdish rebels claimed to have shot down a Turkish army helicopter Sunday, killing all 20 soldiers aboard.
The Kurdish news agency DEM, based in Germany, said the U.S.-made Sikorsky helicopter was shot down in the southeastern province of Hakkari.
The Turkish military would not comment on the report. Rebels have downed Turkish military helicopters in the past.
The claim came as Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and eight other ministers visited Hakkari, a province in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, touting a new $115 million economic development program designed to combat the Kurdish insurgency in the region.
"We will cut off the sources of separatist terror by bringing development to our people, halting unemployment and giving everybody educational opportunities," Ecevit said.
Development of southeastern Turkey has been frustrated by the armed conflict between the Turkish military and the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which began in 1984 and has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
Ecevit's visit was his first to the region since PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in Kenya last month. Some 3,000 police and soldiers were reportedly deployed in the provincial capital, Diyarbakir, for the visit, following PKK threats to punish anyone who met with Ecevit.
While nine previous economic development packages have failed to boost the region's economy significantly, Ecevit said his package -- which includes tax exemptions, low-cost loans and free state land -- was different.
"People say 'governments have come in the past with packages, but they turned out to be empty.' But we haven't just announced a program or brought a package. We have brought its contents, too," he said.
Since Ocalan's capture, the country has witnessed violent street clashes and a PKK suicide bomb attack Thursday. Authorities have cracked down on Kurdish activists, detaining more than 3,000 people, according to human rights sources.
On Sunday, police detained 241 people, many of them members of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP), in the Aegean port of Izmir as they prepared a demonstration to celebrate Monday's International Women's Day, the Anatolian news agency said.
Turkey's constitutional court is expected to decide Monday whether to ban HADEP candidates from the April 18 elections, amid charges that the party is a front for the PKK.
Kurds ignore Turkish amnesty offer
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