Turkish Rights Group Wants Investigation of Killings

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s main human rights group on Tuesday called for an investigation into the killing of five villagers whom security officials had identified as Kurds.

"We want legal and parliamentary investigations into the death of five Turkish citizens of Arab origin who were only villagers,” Nazmi Gur–an official from the Human Rights Association–told Reuters.

Turkish security forces said troops killed the five on the southern border with Syria on Dec. 21 and that they were Kurdistan Workers Party members.

But Gur said the five were suspected smugglers from the southern province of Sanliurfa–home to many ethnic Arabs.

"We have learned that some of them have criminal records for smuggling. They were known by local people there as villagers–not as PKK members," he said.

Smuggling is widespread in the border area.

Turkey often accuses Syria of sponsoring the PKK and allowing its members to cross the border. Syria denies the charges.

Meanwhile–a court on Tuesday acquitted Turkey’s leading human rights activist and three others of inciting hatred in speeches made in 1996.

"Four people were acquitted–Human Rights Association chairman Akin Birdal among them," an association official told Reuters.

He said that one of the five accused–a member of a far-left party–had been jailed for one year for "spreading separatist propaganda" in his speech.

Another court last week adjourned until February a case against the rights group for allegedly breaching the rules of its founding charter. The group could be closed if it is found to have acted outside its legal boundaries.

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