Kurdish militant leader demands meaningful Turkey negotiations

ISTANBUL Mon Oct 14, 2013 1:44pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan called on Monday for the Turkish government to launch meaningful negotiations with him to end a 29-year conflict or his hope in a fragile peace process would turn to disillusionment.

Ocalan, imprisoned on an island south of Istanbul, began talks with state officials a year ago with the aim of halting an insurgency which has killed more than 40,000 people and stunted development in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

In his first comments since the government presented reforms to advance the process at the end of September, Ocalan said the process had eased social tensions, but in the absence of any progress, "mountainous problems" remained.

"I am waiting for the state to respond with meaningful, deep negotiations," Ocalan said in a written statement released by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). "It is necessary to put into practice deep negotiations without delay because of the sensitivity of the process."

Two senior BDP deputies held talks on Monday with Ocalan on the island of Imrali, where he has been held since his capture in 1999, and the statement was released after their return.

"Just as no legal foundation has been established during the year, there has been no rejection and no progress," he said.

"While I retain my hope for the process, I am repeating once again my historic call so that this hope does not turn into disillusionment," he added.

The comments will be closely analyzed by rebels from his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), based in the mountains of northern Iraq, who said last week they were considering whether to maintain a six-month-old ceasefire after what they described as a disappointing reform package.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan pledged on September 30 to expand some Kurdish rights, allowing for privately funded Kurdish-language education and proposing to change a vote threshold that kept Kurdish parties out of parliament in the past.

But the reforms stopped short of the constitutional guarantees for Kurdish identity and culture, greater autonomy and full native-language education that the PKK statement said were "the Kurdish people's inalienable demands".

Erdogan has accused the PKK of failing to withdraw its forces from Turkish territory as promised and that the reform package was not a component of the peace talks but aimed more broadly at improving Turkish democracy.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

The effort to negotiate peace with Ocalan is seen as Turkey's best chance of ending the conflict that has blighted its human rights record, held back its EU candidacy and undermined economic growth.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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