Turkey is preparing for a long and difficult struggle against what officials here describe as ``the most serious threat'' this country has experienced in the last 50 years. Escalating guerrilla warfare by well-trained Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey, they say, has put at stake the region's security and the nation's unity and territorial integrity.
So far all attacks have been concentrated in the remote villages of the southeast, but the concern in official circles is that the guerrillas might expand their activities into urban areas.
In the spate of attacks in Turkey's ``wild east,'' Kurdish ``terrorists'' have taken the lives of some 478 people in the region, including 320 civilians, the government says.
Groups of Kurdish gunmen have been entering villages late at night and opening fire indiscriminately. Two attacks occuredrecently in Mardin Province only a few hours after Prime Minister Turgut Ozal toured the area and appealed to the terrorists to take advantage of an amnesty law and surrender.
The Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist group, claims responsibility for the attacks. The group, which began as an underground organization in 1978, says its aim is to ``liberate'' the Kurdish-inhabited areas of Turkey and create an independent Kurdish state.
The PKK has conducted terrorist actions in the southeast for three years through its military wing, the People's Army for the Liberation of Kurdistan. The PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is known to have his base in Damascus, Syria. Guerrillas, according to Turkish intelligence, come over the border from Syria, use hit-and-run tactics in areas difficult for Army units to reach, and escape over the borders into Syria, Iran, or Iraq.
According to the Turkish government, the PKK has some 1,100 armed men carrying out operations from within Turkey, and a total estimated force of about 3,400 men.
Because of the recent escalation of the terrorist campaign and the rise in casualties the Ozal government has developed a series of short- and long-term measures aimed at curtailing the terrorism:
A new post of ``regional governor'' has been created for an eight-province area of southeastern Turkey. The governor will have broad powers over the security forces.
A special, well-trained, well-equipped ``strike force,'' probably numbering 5,000, will be formed to fight the terrorists in place of regular Army units. Army officers in the region have complained that regular soldiers doing military service are not properly trained nor equipped to deal with terrorism.
Prime Minister Ozal two weeks ago reached an agreement with Syria that provides for cooperation between the two nations on security matters. Syrian authorities are committed to preventing PKK militants from using Syrian territory as a base for actions.
Consideration is being given to ways of modernizing regional communications, increasing intelligence-gathering on the PKK and other terrorist groups, and improving the equipment and weaponry used against them.
The government has acknowledged an urgent need to develop southeastern Turkey, which has long been neglected, both economically and socially. Most of the country's ethnic Kurds (estimates vary from 6 to 10 million) live in the area and are poor and illiterate. Although such conditions create a favorable ground for the separatist campaign, surveys show that the majority of the Kurdish population does not support the militants and strongly opposes their terrorist methods.