Jailed Kurdish rebel to make "historic call" in Turkey peace process

Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:51pm EDT
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By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said he would make a "historic" appeal on Thursday, raising expectations of ceasefire in a 28-year-old conflict which has riven Turkey, killing some 40,000 people, and battered its economy.

Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas, a member of parliament, conveyed Ocalan's statement on his return to Istanbul on Monday from a visit to his prison on the island of Imrali. A ceasefire could cement talks with the government that have been progressing tentatively since October.

"We want to solve the arms problem rapidly and without losing time or another life," Ocalan said in asking for the support of parliament and political parties to achieve a peace.

There was no immediate comment from the Turkish government, which says it seeks but will continue to counter PKK operations until they lay down their arms.

The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union as well as Turkey. But Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has promoted contacts since a summer that brought a sharp worsening of the conflict with rising guerrilla violence and large-scale arrests of Kurdish activists in the south-east.

A ceasefire call, coinciding with the Kurdish new year, could be accompanied by a command to his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants to withdraw to bases in northern Iraq where the PKK says it keeps about half of its 7,000 fighters. Turkey, which has launched air raids and even ground operations against the bases, gives small numbers for the rebels' strength.

"The statement I am preparing will be a historic call. It will contain satisfying information on the military and political dimensions of a solution," said Ocalan, who was captured by Turkish special forces in Kenya 14 years ago and long vilified as a murderer and 'baby killer' in Turkish media.

Ocalan was initially sentenced to be hanged for treason on Imrali, but this was commuted to life imprisonment. "Apo", as he is known to his allies, had been kept largely in isolation since then with no contact with his field commanders.   Continued...

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), gestures during a rally to celebrate the spring festival of Newroz in Istanbul March 17, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer