ANKARA (Reuters) - A commander of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ruled out a unilateral ceasefire on Thursday and accused the Turkish government of pursuing war to gain more votes.
Hundreds have been killed in almost daily bloody clashes between the PKK and security forces in the largely Kurdish southeast since a long-standing ceasefire and peace overtures fell apart in July.
With an election looming in six weeks, Ankara says the militants must put down their weapons and return to their camps in northern Iraq before it will halt operations and restart peace talks.
“A ceasefire can only be mutual,” PKK field commander Murat Karayilan told the Firat news agency, which is close to the group, in an interview. “Our experience teaches us that positive outcomes cannot be achieved through unilateral ceasefire.”
On Wednesday, a Kurdish militant umbrella group said it was ready for talks supervised by a third party. Karayilan is based in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, from where he directs the PKK insurgency against Turkey.
The PKK launched a separatist armed struggle in 1984 before moderating its goal to improving the rights of Turkey’s roughly 12 million Kurds.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who has boosted Kurdish cultural rights during more than a decade in power, began peace talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012, risking nationalist wrath.
In a June general election, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) passed the 10 percent election threshold for the first time and gained 80 seats in Turkey’s 550-seat parliament, depriving the ruling AK Party of its overall majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002.
“Even if we stop, AKP will not,” Karayilan said. “They will continue war as long as the war conditions are in their benefit. The conditions for a mutual ceasefire don’t seem possible before Nov. 1.”
The Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), the Kurdish militants’ umbrella political group, had said on Wednesday it appreciated calls made by democratic groups in Turkey, the European Union and European Parliament for a mutual ceasefire and a return to negotiations.
“We emphasize once again that we are ready for a mutual and arbitrated ceasefire through negotiations, and support the efforts and struggle of peoples and pro-peace circles for a democratic political resolution and lasting peace,” it said.
The group blamed Erdogan and the AKP he founded for the collapse of the peace process.
“This is the war of the palace,” KCK said, referring to Erdogan. “This war makes the (Kurdish and Turkish) people confront each other and causes a de facto division of the land.”
Editing by David Dolan and Kevin Liffey