ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Kurdish militant commander denied the suspect held over the killing of three activists in Paris was a member of his group, accusing the Turkish state of involvement in the murders in an interview with a rebel-linked news agency.
The murders overshadowed Turkey’s moves to begin peace talks with the rebels and their top field commander, Murat Karayilan, said on Wednesday the government was conducting a “psychological war” rather than sincerely trying to end the conflict.
The Turkish government said it had begun talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on how to end the 28-year-old conflict over Kurdish autonomy and soon after, on January 9, the activists, including a PKK founder, were killed execution-style.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has suggested the motive for the triple murder may be an internal feud in the PKK.
Omer Guney, a driver of one of the women killed, was placed under investigation on Monday, the Paris prosecutor said. Guney, who told prosecutors he had been a PKK member for two years, denied the charges.
“This person definitely had no relationship with the PKK and the PKK leadership,” the group’s acting head Karayilan told the Firat news agency at his base in northern Iraq, adding that Guney nonetheless did sometimes take part in demonstrations.
“We have no doubt that the Turkish state was involved in this business,” he added.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, has previously blamed the killings on shadowy elements within the Turkish state or foreign powers, but this is the first time it has blamed the state directly.
The PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish homeland and it now seeks autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds. The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people.
The talks envisage a deal under which the PKK would stop fighting, withdraw from Turkish soil and disarm, according to media reports. In return, the government would carry out reforms boosting rights of a Kurdish minority numbering some 15 million.
But clashes between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish military have continued despite the peace moves. Kurdish politicians have criticized the military operations and the hardline stance of Erdogan, who said attacks on the fighters in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq would continue.
The militant Karayilan voiced similar criticism.
“We can’t see a sincere and confidence-inspiring approach from the AKP government towards solving the problem,” he said.
“If a peace process is really wanted, this style and stance of psychological war must be put to one side. It is important that the parties respect one another,” he added.
Turkish security forces killed six PKK militants on Tuesday in the southeastern province of Mardin, near the border with Syria, security officials said.
Parliament is scheduled on Thursday to debate a draft law under which defendants will be able to use Kurdish, or other languages in court - a demand of Kurdish politicians.
The government presented the draft to the assembly in November during the course of a hunger strike by jailed PKK militants, whose demands included such legislation.
Courts’ refusal to allow defendants who speak Turkish to use Kurdish in their defense has been a source of controversy in cases against hundreds of defendants accused of PKK links.
Erdogan’s government has boosted Kurdish cultural and language rights since taking power a decade ago, but Kurdish politicians are seeking greater political reform.
Editing by Alison Williams