Former army chief to testify in Bitlis murder probe

November 25, 2011, Friday/ 16:53:00

The Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office, conducting an investigation into the suspicious death of a general who died in a plane crash in 1993, has summoned a former chief of General Staff and another general to testify in the probe.

The investigation was launched in Sept. 2010 after Retired Col. Arif Doğan, who claims to be the founder of JİTEM, a clandestine and illicit unit within the gendarmerie, testified to prosecutors saying Gen. Eşref Bitlis' plane crash was the result of sabotage.

The chief of General Staff at the time, Doğan Güreş, and then Diyarbakır Gendarmerie Public Safety Regional Commander Hasan Kundakçı were summoned by Prosecutor Mehmet Özgür, who is investigating the claims that Bitlis' death, was an assassination.

Sources say Güreş, who has poor health, will testify at his home. Kundakçı claims he has no information about the plane crash. The prosecutor is also expected to ask questions about the deaths of military officers Bahtiyar Aydın, Rıdvan Özden, Temel Cingöz, Hulusi Sayın and Kazım Çillioğlu, who also died suspicious deaths one after another following Bitlis' death. They all worked under him.

In the initial investigation, Doğan Güreş had blamed icing of the tarmac for the crash, which occurred shortly after the military aircraft, scheduled to fly to Diyarbakır, took off from the Güvercinlik Military Airport at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 17, 1993. However, reports by experts from the İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ) clearly stated that icing could not have caused the crash.

There have been others who said they believed the crash was not accident. Hasan Tüysüzoğlu, a former military prosecutor who carried out the initial investigation into the crash 17 years ago, has told the press that he had every reason to suspect sabotage.

Tüysüzoğlu told newspapers last year that the plane had exploded after it crashed, and not in the air as was thought. He said there were no traces of a bomb but that some other “techniques” may have been used to cause the plane to crash, such as mixing fuel with water. He added that the plane's fuel was sent to a laboratory for chemical analysis but that he couldn't access the results of the laboratory's work because the dossier was taken from him, after which no further investigation was deemed necessary.

Tüysüzoğlu has also made another claim regarding ret. Gen. Armağan Kuloğlu, then commander of the air cadet school of the land forces. Tüysüzoğlu said that Gen. Kuloğlu should have been investigated because there were helicopters that also crashed under his command. He added that instead of being investigated Gen. Kuloğlu was promoted after the crash.

Bitlis was a senior general investigating the same issue that journalist Uğur Mumcu had been investigating. Mumcu was assassinated in 1993 for trying to discover what happened to 100,000 firearms that disappeared from the Turkish Armed Forces' (TSK) arsenal. Bitlis died 25 days after Mumcu. Expert reports on the plane accident in which he died indicated that the incident was most likely caused by sabotage.

Just one week before he was killed, Bitlis met with foreign ministers from Syria, Iran and Iraq about trying to put an end to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as part of the plan of late President Turgut Özal, who favored a civilian solution to the Kurdish problem. Before Özal even had a chance to see any of his ideas put into practice, he died on April 17, 1993. Several conspiracy theories emerged in the wake of Özal's death. 

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