Kurdish militant leader signals Turkish prisoners may be freed

Sat Feb 23, 2013 3:54pm EST
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The jailed leader of Turkey's Kurdish rebellion on Saturday signaled that his followers could release captives and further a fledgling peace process that may be the best hope in years of ending the decades-long conflict.

The call by Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), came after a rare meeting with members of parliament's only pro-Kurdish party at his prison on an island in the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul.

It fell short of a new ceasefire declaration, which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would like to see to boost an initiative that includes state officials' negotiations with Ocalan and aims to end a war that has claimed 40,000 lives since 1984.

Reading a short statement by Ocalan, Pervin Buldan, a member of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who visited Ocalan with two other lawmakers, said upon their return that the rebel leader would like to see captives held by the PKK freed.

"A historic process is under way. All sides should be very careful and sensitive," Buldan cited Ocalan as saying.

"The state and the PKK both have prisoners. The PKK should treat prisoners well, and I hope they return to their families."

Ocalan may be referring to both captured soldiers and government employees kidnapped by the PKK in recent years.

Thousands of militants and their suspected supporters are in jail, many of them awaiting verdicts in trials that last years.   Continued...

Pro-Kurdish politicians Sirri Sureyya Onder (R), Pelvin Buldan (L) and Altan Tan (C), are surrounded by media members before leaving for Imrali island in Istanbul February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer