Police hunt killers of PKK co-founder Sakine Cansiz

A man reacts next to portrait of Sakine Cansizt inside the Kurdish cultural center in Paris The three women were found in a Kurdish information centre

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French police are hunting the killers of three Kurdish women activists found shot dead in Paris on Thursday.

The bodies of Sakine Cansiz - a co-founder of the militant nationalist PKK - and of two others were found in a Kurdish information centre.

France and Turkey both condemned the killings.

The motive for the shootings is unclear. Some 40,000 people have died in the 25-year conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK.

However, Turkey has recently begun talks with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, with the aim of persuading the group to disarm.

Analysis

It is the first time that such a senior member of the PKK has been killed in Europe. There has been a tacit agreement between the PKK and the Turkish government that no such high-profile attacks would be carried out against either senior PKK members or senior members of the government.

During the 1980s, there were some attacks believed to be from within the Turkish state against members of the militant Armenian group Asala, but there have been no political assassinations targeting the PKK.

The Paris killings come against the backdrop of fresh peace talks between jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government. Those talks have not been easy and have opponents on both sides.

The Turkish government says the previous round of peace talks was derailed because of a clash between Turkish soldiers and the PKK in June 2011.

Thursday's killings will make the current negotiations even more difficult, no matter who might be behind the attack.

"Rest assured that French authorities are determined to get to the bottom of these intolerable acts," French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said, adding that the killings were "surely an execution".

French President Francois Hollande described the killings as "horrible".

"The investigation is ongoing and I think we ought to to wait to find out the reasons [for the killings] and those behind them," he said.

Turkish government spokesman Bulent Arinc condemned the killings, saying: "This is utterly wrong. I express my condolences."

The BBC's James Reynolds in Turkey says two rival theories have emerged about the killings.

The deputy chairman of the ruling party, Husein Celik, said that the killings appeared to be the result of an internal Kurdish feud.

The theory was later picked up by other officials and commentators in the Turkish media, who suggested that PKK factions opposed to the talks were to blame.

But Kurdish activists said the killings were carried out by forces in the Turkish state itself who wanted to derail the talks.

Our correspondent says that in Turkey many believe that there is a so-called "deep state" - a powerful nationalistic establishment which seeks to undermine the work of democratic governments and activists.

Locked doors
A woman of Kurdish origin holds a frame with photos of three Kurdish women activists Kurds living in France gathered to protest against the killings

The three women were last seen inside the information centre on Wednesday afternoon. Later, a member of the Kurdish community tried to visit the centre but found the doors were locked.

Their bodies - all three bearing gunshot wounds - were found in the early hours on Thursday.

One of them was Sakine Cansiz, who was detained and tortured in Turkey in the 1980s, and was close to Ocalan.

A second woman has been named as Fidan Dogan, 32, who worked in the information centre. She was also the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress.

The third, named as Leyla Soylemez, was a young activist.

The PKK took up arms in 1984, and demands greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurds, who are thought to comprise up to 20% of the population.

It is regarded by Turkey, the US and European Union as a terrorist organisation, because of its attacks on Turkish security forces and civilians.

In 2012 it stepped up its attacks, leading to the fiercest fighting in decades, but violence has subsided during the winter.

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