Kurdish peace process in Turkey faces impasse over militant withdrawal

ISTANBUL Tue Apr 2, 2013 11:36am EDT

Kurds take part in a demonstration calling for the release of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, in Strasbourg, eastern France, February 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

Kurds take part in a demonstration calling for the release of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, in Strasbourg, eastern France, February 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jean-Marc Loos

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's peace process with Kurdish militants faces a hurdle as the rebels demand legal protection to prevent any military attack on them during their planned withdrawal after decades of fighting, a call rejected by the government.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) declared a ceasefire with Turkey last month in response to an order from its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan after months of talks with Ankara to halt a conflict which has killed more than 40,000.

The next planned step is a withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkish territory to their bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, but the militants say they could be vulnerable to attack from Turkish troops unless parliament gives them legal protection.

"The guerrillas cannot withdraw unless a legal foundation is prepared and measures are taken, because guerrillas suffered major attacks when they left in the past," PKK commander Cemil Bayik told Kurdish Nuce TV in an interview aired late on Monday.

Hundreds of PKK fighters are estimated to have been killed in clashes with security forces during a previous withdrawal in 1999 after Ocalan's capture and conviction for treason.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he guarantees there would be no repeat of such clashes but is against legislation, instead saying the rebels should disarm before withdrawing to remove the risk of firefights with Turkish forces.

"We don't care where those withdrawing leave their weapons or even whether they bury them. They must put them down and go. Because otherwise this situation is very open to provocation," Erdogan said in a television interview late on Friday.

Milliyet newspaper reported security sources as saying about 700 of 1,500 PKK militants believed to be in Turkey may be allowed to reintegrate into society rather than withdrawing as they have not taken part in armed attacks.

POLITICAL RISK

The PKK has rejected a withdrawal without legal protection.

"A withdrawal as called for by Erdogan is not on our movement's agenda," PKK leaders in northern Iraq said at the weekend, calling for government action to advance the peace process.

"It is essential for the lasting and healthy development of the process that some concrete, practical steps are taken in order to convince our forces," the group said in a statement.

Erdogan has taken a considerable political risk in allowing negotiations with Ocalan, reviled by most Turks, to unfold publicly. The government has said little about what reforms it would make to persuade the PKK to disarm.

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of carving out an independent state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, but later moderated its goal to autonomy.

Pro-Kurdish politicians are focused on boosting minority rights and stronger local government for the Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's population of 75 million people.

Erdogan said he would meet on Thursday members of a "wise people" commission who will prepare a report on the peace process for the government within one month. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is separately calling for a parliamentary commission to monitor the process.

Efforts to resolve the legal protection dispute are likely to top the agenda in planned talks between a BDP delegation and Ocalan in his jail on Imrali island, south of Istanbul. The visit is expected this weekend, a Justice Ministry official told Reuters.

The visit, which may bring an order from Ocalan for the withdrawal to begin, will follow celebrations by Ocalan's supporters to mark his birthday on April 4 at his birthplace in southeast Turkey.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Pravin Char)

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Comments (3)
Faircomment2 wrote:
Turkey is not to be trusted by the Kurds. It has betrayed Kurds over and over again throughout the history. Is this about solving Kurdish problems or just getting rid off PKK. If Kurdish problem is not resolved a new PKK will emerge in a really short time period and it will be much more focused on Kurdish independence instead of freeing some individual leader. Free Kurds and Kurdistan!

Apr 02, 2013 11:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
xpat wrote:
May I remind you that the “Kurdish” problem is a polite way of saying “PKK” problem. PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is a Marxist organization classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, EU and US and consequently all its leaders are on Interpol’s red list. They are heavily armed and cause terror in Eastern Anatolia, attacking schools and killing teachers (their most recent MO). So please don’t speak about them as if they were some legitimate peaceful rights group. The Turkish government is going out of its way to resolve the issue and now the terrorists want “guarantees”!! What about them? How much is a terrorist’s guarantee worth?

Apr 02, 2013 5:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
TheSpeaker wrote:
I would be more careful xpat. Saying that Kurdish problem is PKK itself, you are legitimizing them. Be realistic, Turkish security appratus constantly does the exact things you mentioned and they blame them on others. I am not in support of PKK at all. However, I feel sorry for the millions of Kurds who have to suffer under Turkish rule on their own land that has been divided by Turkey, Iran, Iraq, etc. It is really a republic of fear, which Kurdish people are not affraid of. What legitimizes you to be an occupying force in Kurdistan. It is not PKK, Apo, Attaturk, or Erdogan that will decide for Kurdish people. Many of the Turkish generals from the past and recent history even from the 90′s should have been on Interpol list. Their time will come as well. It is a shame everytime and occupying force invades a country, they call the people of that own country terrorists when it is actually the reverse.

Apr 05, 2013 1:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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