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Kurdish leader's murder in Paris threatens tentative Turkish-PKK peace deal

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Kurdish Cultural Center/AP

(Read caption) This undated and unlocated photo provided Thursday, Jan.10, 2013 by the Kurdish Cultural center in Paris shows Sakine Cansiz, founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Three Kurdish women, including Cansiz, were "executed" at a Kurdish center in Paris, the interior minister said Thursday.

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The future of a tentative agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the leading militant group fighting for Kurdish autonomy, may be on the rocks after the killing of three Kurdish exiles in Paris in what is suspected to be a politically motivated killing.

One of the three killed, Sakine Cansiz, was a founder of PKK. She and two other women – Fidan Dogan, the head of the Kurdish Institute of Paris and a representative of the Kurdistan National Committee, and Leyla Soylemez, a Kurdish activist – were found dead at the Kurdish Information Center in Paris around 2 a.m. today, The New York Times reports. (Editor's note: This sentence has been edited to correctly reflect where the incident happened; initial news reports were incorrect.)

Kurdish militants blame the Turkish government, but Turkish media reported that government officials suspect internal feuding within the PKK might be behind the killings.

BBC reports that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that the women were "undoubtedly [summarily] executed."

Decades of guerrilla warfare against the Turkish government, aimed at achieving Kurdish autonomy, seemed to be approaching an end last year as Ankara and representatives of the PKK's political wing met in Oslo for talks, but the talks fell apart amid an upsurge of violence in southeastern Turkey, where the Kurds are concentrated.

However, Turkish officials recently acknowledged publicly that they had formed a "tentative peace plan" with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, the Times reports.

The Wall Street Journal writes that there was "rising optimism" in Turkey about the prospect for those talks, which are aimed at getting the PKK – considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the European Union because of its attacks on civilians – to disarm. Turkish officials are concerned that the death of the three women might be used to bring an end to the talks, which some within the PKK oppose.

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"Unfortunately some may see the incident as an opportunity. Everybody should come to their senses and think and do what is their duty," President Abdullah Gul said, according to the Wall Street Journal. An official with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said, "We have seen inner conflict in the PKK before…. I am not sure who has done this, but there are those who would try to sabotage the process."

Turkish English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports that Ms. Cansiz was "known for her opposition" to both the head of the PKK's armed wing, a Syrian Kurd named Ferman Hussein, and the PKK's "financial head," Zübeyir Yılmaz.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) condemned the killings and urged Kurds worldwide to stage protests to put pressure on French authorities to thoroughly investigate the death, according to Hurriyet.

“We extend condolences to all Kurdish people. We expect the French government to immediately bring to light this massacre without leaving room for hesitation,” the leaders said in a written statement.

“Those in every place of the world who deem the Kurd worthy of only death should know that we will not avoid paying the cost of freedom for our people, whatever that cost is. We bow with respect before the memories of these three precious Kurdish female politicians who devoted their lives to the future of their people."

About 15 million Kurds live in Turkey, a substantive percentage of Turkey's overall population of 74 million, according to the Times. There are also substantial Kurdish populations in Syria, Iraq, and Iran, where they have varying levels of autonomy.

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