Former Kurdish Leader on Trial in Turkey

DIYARBAKIR–Turkey–A Turkish court Tuesday began trying one of the country’s most feared former Kurdish leaders–who faces the death sentence if convicted on charges of murder and treason.

Semdin Sakik–until recently the number two in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–appeared in the state security court in the southeastern capital of Diyarbakir under tight security.

Turkish special forces detained Sakik–dubbed "Fingerless Zeki" after losing a thumb in combat–in the Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq in April.

"It is claimed that you have taken part in the killing of 113 civilians and 125 security officials," prosecutor Yavuz Sen told Sakik–who remained calm and quiet.

He was dressed in a blue shirt and well-pressed yellow jacket–in sharp contrast to the green fatigues he used to wear as the rebel field commander in eastern Turkey.

Plainclothes police carried out strict identity checks before the hearing. Other security forces were position in around the court building.

The prosecutor demanded the death sentence for the Kurdish leader–charging him of "carrying out activities aimed at dividing a part of the territory from the state’s rule."

Turkish courts still impose capital punishment sentences but no executions have taken place since the early 1980s.

Anatolian news agency said security forces had killed 10 PKK members in fighting in Hakkari province. Three members of a local anti-rebel militia force died in the clash–it said.

Security officials said the Kurds had also killed two soldiers on Monday night in an ambush in the rugged mountain province of Tunceli–from where Sakik used to direct Kurdish operations.

They said PKK fighters also staged roadblocks in the area. Anatolian news agency said a soldier killed in a clash with the PKK near the Iranian border was buried in the province of Sivas on Tuesday. Sakik defected to an Iraqi Kurd group earlier this year after splitting with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in a row over tactics.

Judge Fahrettin Gultekin adjourned the trial until September 3 after Sakik’s lawyers asked for extra time to prepare their defense. No formal plea is needed under Turkish law.

The Sakik’s brother Arif–another PKK member seized along with him–faced similar charges.

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