* Conflict has killed more than 40,000
* PKK leader held on island prison
* PKK says urged to take its fighters out of Turkey
By Ozge Ozbilgin
ANKARA, Jan 4 Turkish officials have made
"important progress" in talks with jailed Kurdish militant
leader Abdullah Ocalan to try to end a near three-decade
insurgency by his supporters, a senior ruling party official
said on Friday.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser said on Monday
Turkey had begun discussing disarmament with the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK) militant group, and on Thursday two Kurdish
lawmakers paid a rare visit to Ocalan in his island prison.
"Talks have reached a certain stage, some important progress
has been made and some results have been achieved, or will be
achieved," Nurettin Canikli, deputy chairman of the ruling AK
Party's parliamentary group, told reporters in Ankara.
"The aim is to end terrorism, all efforts are being made for
this," he said.
Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by
Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have
been unpalatable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago.
Ocalan, who founded the organisation in 1974 to fight for an
independent Kurdish state, is widely reviled by Turks who hold
him responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people since
the PKK took up arms in 1984.
Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence - which has
included bomb attacks in major cities as well as fighting in the
mountainous southeast - particularly with presidential elections
next year in which he is expected to stand.
Murat Karayilan, the acting PKK leader who is sought by
Interpol, was quoted as cautiously welcoming the talks but said
the government must show it was serious and allow PKK fighters
to have direct contact with Ocalan.
"It would be a shame if the current process resulted in
efforts to dissolve the PKK rather than aiming at resolving the
Kurdish issue," he told Firat News, a website close to the PKK.
"For a solution, the Turkish side has to put its project on
the table ... Nobody took up arms to have fun. There's a reason
why these armed groups exist," he was quoted as saying.
Erdogan's government has widened cultural and language
rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's 75
million people, since taking power a decade ago. But Kurdish
politicians want more reforms including steps towards autonomy.
In July 2011, a month after his AK Party won a third term,
Erdogan proposed peace talks with the PKK, and leaked recordings
indicated senior intelligence officials had held secret meetings
with PKK leaders in Oslo.
But the initiatives ran aground, and the last nine months
have seen some of the conflict's bloodiest violence.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Ayla Akat
Ata and prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk went on Thursday
to Imrali, an island in the Marmara Sea where Ocalan has been in
virtual isolation since his capture in 1999.
Few details of those or any previous talks have been made
"The Turkish government is not asking us to drop our guns,
their demand has been to take our armed forces out of Turkey's
borders," Karayilan was quoted as saying, adding that the group
had been promised "safe passage" out of Turkey.
"Where are we expected to take them? To South Kurdistan? We
have forces there already. But the Turkish side expects us to
take the first steps, and how can we trust them," he said,
referring to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.
The PKK uses the remote Kandil mountains in northern Iraq as
a base from which to stage attacks on Turkish territory.
With any hint of concessions to the PKK fiercely opposed by
nationalists, it is not clear what the government believes it
can offer to negotiate a truce.
The Radikal newspaper said on Friday one of the main issues
discussed with Ocalan was a new Turkish constitution. Four
political parties sit on a parliamentary commission set up after
general elections in 2011 to forge a new constitution, which
Erdogan has pledged will boost political freedoms.
Kurdish politicians have long demanded fairer representation
and an end to discrimination in the nation's laws.