ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The Turkish government and the jailed leader of a Kurdish insurgency have agreed on the framework for a plan to end a war that has killed 40,000 people since 1984, envisaging rebel disarmament in exchange for increased minority rights, a newspaper said on Tuesday.
The Radikal daily said senior intelligence officials had held meetings with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) chief Abdullah Ocalan in his island jail near Istanbul, yielding a four-stage plan to halt the conflict.
Previous negotiations with the PKK were highly secretive and appeared to have run aground. The open acknowledgment of the latest contact has raised hopes for a renewed peace effort, including from the main pro-Kurdish party in parliament.
“Meeting with Ocalan...is a correct step, it’s logical and appropriate,” Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas told members of his party in the assembly in Ankara.
“Peace in Turkey can only begin with this step.”
Radikal said that after an initial end to hostilities the PKK fighters would withdraw from Turkish territory, after which disarmament talks would begin, before a final process of the militants laying down their weapons.
Ocalan will prepare four letters setting out his vision for a solution to the conflict to be addressed to the BDP, to the PKK commanders in northern Iraq, to Europe, where many PKK activists are based, and to the Turkish public, Radikal said.
The “roadmap” would involve releasing from custody thousands of people accused of PKK links.
It would also lead to constitutional reforms removing obstacles to Kurdish language education, strengthening local administrations and an ethnically neutral definition of citizenship, describing people as citizens of Turkey rather than Turkish citizens.
There was no official confirmation of any agreement and Radikal did not specify its sources but it is generally regarded as being reliable on the Kurdish issue.
Ocalan’s demands appeared to be limited, with no references to an independent Kurdistan, a federation or the concept of “democratic autonomy” which has been proposed by Kurdish politicians, according to the report.
While there was cautious optimism regarding the prospect of negotiations in Ankara, violence continued in the southeast.
Fourteen PKK fighters and a Turkish soldier were killed overnight after a group of militants, located in northern Iraq some 8 km (5 miles) from the border, opened fire on a military outpost, the local governor’s office said.
Since the PKK took up arms in 1984 violence has been focused in Turkey’s mountainous southeast border region with Iran, Iraq and Syria but bomb attacks have also been staged in cities.
Talks with the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Ocalan is widely reviled by Turks who hold him directly responsible for the bloodshed.
Many Turks rejoiced when Ocalan was hounded from a series of Middle East hideouts, denied refuge in Europe and finally tracked to Kenya by Turkish special forces in 1999.
Television footage at the time showed him strapped into the seat of a plane transporting him to Ankara, flanked by masked soldiers. After a televised trial, he was sentenced to death while crowds chanted “hang, hang, hang” outside the court.
Demirtas said Ocalan, held on the island of Imrali since his capture, had shown a determination to work towards peace but that progress would depend on the government.
His own party, which is popular in the mainly Kurdish southeast, should be involved in any talks, Demirtas added.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has played down the concessions which Turkey would make to end the conflict, ruling out the prospect of Ocalan being released from Imrali and placed under house arrest or a general amnesty.
Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence, Turkey’s main domestic security concern, particularly with presidential elections due in 2014 in which he is expected to stand.
From his prison cell, Ocalan has not been able to express his views on the process directly as he has not had access to his lawyers for 16 months, although he has had a meeting with Kurdish politicians.
The main opposition CHP party expressed support for the process for the sake of ending the bloodshed but said parties in parliament needed to work together to achieve a solution.
The leader of the nationalist MHP was fierce in his criticism of the state talks with the “Imrali monster”.
“Prime Minister Erdogan has crossed a threshold and dropped the government’s anchor in the bloody port of separatist terror,” the MHP’s Devlet Bahceli told his deputies.
There was a cautious response from senior PKK commander Murat Karayilan in northern Iraq, who said the active PKK leadership must be given direct access to Ocalan himself.
“The (PKK) armed forces are what is fundamentally important. For that reason we must have direct dialogue with the leader,” Karayilan said in an interview with a news agency close to the militants.
“There is the problem of convincing the broad command structure and fighters, not just the leadership,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, Gulsen Solaker and Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler and Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Tattersall