DIYARBAKI (Reuters) – Gunmen killed the chief of police and five officers in an ambush in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast on Wednesday–Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said.
Ecevit told a news conference in the capital Ankara that gunmen killed police chief Gaffar Okkan and five policemen in Diyarbakir–the capital of an emergency rule zone in the region.
"It’s obvious that there are those in Turkey who cannot stomach peace and are disturbed by order,” Ecevit said.
"It still isn’t clear who (the assailants) are–but the enemies of peace and order will not be allowed to reach their goals,” he said.
Police told Reuters the gunmen ambushed a caravan of cars including Okkan’s near Diyarbakir police station.
Witnesses said helicopters with searchlights were sweeping low over the city–while police on the ground set up a broad security cordon.
Diyarbakir was once the centre of Turkey’s conflict with the separatist Kurdish rebels of Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–but clashes have dropped off sharply since Turkey captured him and sentenced him to death in 1999.
Most of Ocalan’s fighters withdrew from Turkey after he called on them to turn the armed struggle for autonomy in the southeast into a political campaign for broader cultural rights.
Police in the southeast were most active in recent years in a crackdown against Hizbullah–a shadowy Islamist group that began targeting PKK sympathisers in the mid-1980s and has been implicated in more than 150 murders.
The youthful Okkan was prominent in the crackdown on Hizbullah–giving press briefings as his officers raided houses and unearthed shallow graves in which authorities said Hizbullah had buried its victims.
The assassination-style killings of PKK supporters attributed to the group sparked charges it had the tacit approval of Turkish authorities. Ankara vehemently denies any such cooperation.