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Turkey wedding bloodbath puts militia in spotlight
Wed May 6, 2009 9:05am EDT
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By Seyhmus Cakan
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Eight men arrested over the killing of 44 people at a wedding were all members of state-backed "Village Guard" units set up to help combat Kurdish separatists in Turkey's southeast, officials said on Wednesday.
The involvement of village guards in the worst mass killing in modern Turkish history raises pressure on the EU-candidate country to rein in the heavily armed units.
Human rights groups have accused them of illegal killings and drug trafficking, but the army has praised their role in combating Kurdish rebels.
Monday's attack by masked men with assault rifles and grenades at a wedding in the largely Kurdish southeast demonstrated for some the dangers of arming such informal units in an area known for blood feuds and vendettas.
"If these people committed this massacre with guns the state gave them, it would be time to reconsider the village guard system," Rustem Erkan, head of the sociology department at Diyarbakir's Dicle University told the Hurriyet Daily News.
The attack was condemned by the vice-president of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Turkey's only legal Kurdish party.
"The massacre reveals to what extent the village guards system has been turned into a murder network," Emine Ayna told the newspaper Sabah.
On Wednesday, the DTP called on the government to set up a parliamentary commission to study abolishing village guards.
There are about 57,000 village guards throughout Turkey's southeast, part of a policy established in 1985 to protect villages against attacks from Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas seeking an independent Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.
Officials in the southeastern city of Mardin, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said all eight men arrested after the massacre in the village of Bilge were village guards.
The state-run Anatolian news agency said eight people were formally arrested, including a 14-year-old boy, but no charges had yet been brought.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said "no kind of tradition can justify the killing."
His AK Party government has maintained a conspicuous silence on the village guard system, perhaps aware that disbanding the militias would not be easy, especially with Turkey's economy heading for deep recession.
Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, said the livelihood of about 500,000 people in the poor southeast depended on the village guard network. Guards receive salaries, weapons and a state pension. Continued...
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