Turkey agrees Kurdish delegation to meet jailed militant leader

ISTANBUL Thu Feb 21, 2013 5:29am EST

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara February 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The Turkish government approved on Thursday a list of pro-Kurdish politicians to visit jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, a justice ministry official said, a long-awaited step to advance peace talks on ending a 28-year-old insurgency.

Turkey launched tentative negotiations with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Ocalan in his jail on Imrali island near Istanbul in October, drawing up a framework to end a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.

But there has been little sign of progress since two Kurdish politicians met Ocalan on January 3.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has made clear that a group of prominent Kurdish deputies who had been filmed embracing militants would be barred from meeting the head of the PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Parliament's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) appeared to have bowed to that pressure by proposing three MPs rather than the party leaders they had initially intended.

The ministry official told Reuters the delegation, to visit Ocalan on Saturday, consisted of non-Kurdish leftist film-maker Sirri Sureyya Onder, Altan Tan, who has an Islamist background, and Pervin Buldan, a long-time Kurdish female activist.

Media reports have previously suggested Ocalan could call for a ceasefire via the Kurdish delegation, as part of a process envisaging a PKK withdrawal from Turkey and ultimate disarmament in exchange for reforms boosting rights of the country's Kurdish minority.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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