Turkish court arrests two paramilitary officers connected with Kurdish rebels

A Turkish court has formally charged and arrested two paramilitary officers on suspicion of involvement in a recent grenade attack on a convicted Kurdish rebel as allegations of summary executions by state death squads resurfaced. The arrests late Monday on charges of "establishing an organized crime ring" and "inciting hatred based on ethnic differences" increased suspicions that security forces may once again be attempting summary executions in their fight against Kurdish separatists, troubling the government at the beginning of membership negotiations with the European Union.

A government report in 1998 admitted that Turkish officials had hired assassins and were involved in murders, kidnappings and bombings _ many targeting Kurds in the early 1990s, confirming years of accusations by human rights groups.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised "no cover-up" and vowed to shed light on the Nov. 9 attack in the southeastern town of Semdinli.

There also have been recent claims that some security forces have engaged in violent operations to allegedly provoke a military response against the Kurds, such as the Nov. 20 grenade attack on a police station in Silopi that was initially blamed on Kurdish rebels. Last week, however, two government-paid and armed village guards _ who fight alongside Turkish troops against the guerrillas _ were arrested in connection with that attack.

The 1998 report grew out of an investigation into state links with organized crime after a scandalous traffic accident near the western town of Susurluk in which a police chief, a wanted hit man, a lawmaker and a beauty queen were riding in the same car. Only the lawmaker survived and he is still on trial.

Several newspapers and Kurdish politicians have alleged similarities with that scandal, known as the "Susurluk scandal" and the bombing in Semdinli which sparked days of rioting by Kurdish rebel sympathizers that left four people dead.

The court on Monday formally charged and jailed paramilitary officers Ali Kaya and Ozcan Ildeniz in the city of Van, bordering Iran, after nearly 10 hours of questioning by a prosecutor and by the court, the Anatolia news agency said.

Defense lawyer Vedat Gulsen, a former sergeant who said he was asked to defend the officers by local military commanders, said their arrests Monday were a "precaution," and should not be interpreted as a "verdict."

"My clients have represented the institution that they belonged to with honor and they continue to do so," Anatolia quoted Gulsen as saying.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the head of ground forces, said last week that the military high command did not order the bombing, but left open the possibility that soldiers may have been behind the attack. "Orders from Ankara ... I strongly reject it," said Buyukanit, who is expected to climb to the post of chief of staff in 2006 in line with military traditions.

Earlier, Buyukanit admitted that he knew one of the suspects, Kaya, and even identified him as a "good soldier," drawing criticism. Kaya, who is fluent in Kurdish, had served under Buyukanit as a translator during a cross-border operation against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq in 1997, reports the AP. I.L.

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