Turkey's interior minister said on Saturday Ankara had no plans to abolish the village militia system after its members were implicated in a wedding massacre, despite growing calls to rein in the heavily armed force.
Forty-four people were killed in Monday's attack near the southeastern town of Mardin which ranked as the worst mass killing in modern Turkish history. Eleven people are under arrest after the violence, blamed on a family feud.
Officials have said the perpetrators were members of state-sponsored "village guards" set up to help combat Kurdish separatists. "We are not working on abolishing the militia," Interior Minister Besir Atalay told reporters. "I find these statements a little exaggerated. It is not fair to blame the militia for the tragedy in Mardin. The militia system was built based on needs Turkey has and they have played an important role in the protection of villages."
His comments came two days after Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the village guard system could be reformed or abolished.
The military, which is fighting Kurdish guerrillas in a 25-year separatist conflict in the southeast, has defended the militia, saying it is wrong to establish a link between the massacre in the village of Bilge and the guard system.
Human rights groups have accused village guards of illegal killings and drug trafficking, but experts have warned it will be difficult to abolish the militia overnight, given the guards' importance as a source of income in the impoverished region.
There are around 60,000 village guards in the southeast. The militias were established in 1985 during the height of the separatist conflict to protect villages against attacks from Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas seeking an independent Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.
The Mardin wedding killings, blamed on a feud over property and who should marry the bride, have highlighted the social and economic underdevelopment plaguing the European Union-candidate's southeast.