Kurdish rebel commander warns Turkish state sabotaging peace

ISTANBUL Wed Jun 19, 2013 9:50am EDT

Murat Karayilan, acting military commander of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniya, 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Baghdad March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Murat Karayilan, acting military commander of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniya, 330 km (205 miles) northeast of Baghdad March 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Azad Lashkari

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A top Kurdish militant commander warned on Wednesday a fragile peace process had been jeopardized by increased military activity and a lack of concrete steps by the government, including the continued detention of Kurdish politicians.

Members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) began a withdrawal from Turkish territory to bases in northern Iraq last month, part of a deal brokered between the state and the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this year aimed at ending a conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives since 1984.

"The state is doing what it can to sabotage this process. It is preparing for war. This is creating serious problems for us," Murat Karayilan, the PKK commander based in northern Iraq, told the Firat news agency, which is close to the rebels.

He pointed to increased military surveillance and the construction of new army posts in the mainly Kurdish southeast as undermining the rebels' withdrawal, which is expected to take months.

There was no immediate comment from the military General Staff, although in April, the military issued a statement that it would continue to fight against "terrorism".

Karayilan added that the PKK had not engaged in armed action since January.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has overseen the initiative to end one of world's longest-running insurgencies after fighting escalated sharply in 2011 and 2012.

But opposition parties have criticized Erdogan for not revealing the measures his side agreed to in exchange for the rebels' ceasefire and withdrawal.

Karayilan said the peace process had now reached a "critical stage" at which the government must take its own steps as the PKK withdrew. He added his comments could be taken as a "warning".

"For the democratic resolution process to develop, the PKK has fulfilled its obligations ... and we will continue to do so. But the state and the government have responsibilities and in the past three months they have done nothing," he said.

"To resolve the Kurdish issue, the government ... must take steps. If it doesn't, the process will be blocked," he said.

Among measures the PKK expects is an end to Ocalan's isolation at his island prison where he is serving a life sentence for treason, and releasing thousands of Kurdish activists and politicians in jail for up to four years during their trials, mostly on charges related Turkeys' anti-terrorism law.

"Doesn't the government and state need to open up political channels and make Kurdish politics freer? What we see instead is a large majority of Kurdish politicians are still in jail, that (they) are to stay in jail and guerrillas will withdraw."

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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