Workers unearth suspected mass grave in southeast Turkey

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:13am EST

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish building workers have dug up 23 skeletons in a suspected mass grave in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey at a site once used by a shadowy state military unit, security officials said on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation to identify the bodies and to determine when they were buried.

Workers began to find human remains during building work this month. In the latest dig early Wednesday, four skulls and bones were unearthed at a site in the Ickale district of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region.

So far, the remains of eight people have been sent for forensic examination and the site has been cordoned off.

Prosecutors planned to search land around several buildings in a neighborhood that had served as a local headquarters for the JITEM anti-terrorism unit.

The clandestine paramilitary group was suspected of involvement in extra-judicial killings in the 1990s at the height of a conflict between state forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been the victims of extra-judicial killings during the period, according to human rights groups.

Security officials said local people had asked for their DNA to be tested and compared with the DNA of the remains to determine whether they belong to relatives who went missing at that time.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the PKK and the state since the militants launched their armed insurgency in 1984. The United States, the European Union, as well as Turkey, all regard the PKK as a terrorist organization.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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