ISTANBUL Turkey should offer Kurds equal rights in language use, local governance, identity and political representation as the mainly Kurdish southeast seeks to avoid a worsening of the militant conflict in the region, a think tank said on Friday.
It said violence between the state and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants has reached levels not seen since the 1990s, leading to the deaths of at least 870 people since June 2011.
In a report focused on Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, the International Crisis Group (ICG) gave recommendations to the government and Kurdish community leaders to boost trust, Kurdish language rights and debate on decentralization.
"Official recognition of Kurdish identity and the right to education and justice in mother languages is a priority," the report said.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government has pushed through a series of Kurdish language and cultural reforms during its decade in power, but Kurdish politicians say those do not go far enough and are pushing for regional autonomy.
The ICG said Erdogan's government has done more than any previous one to permit use of the Kurdish language, including a current initiative on optional Kurdish classes.
But the report said most Kurds want nothing less than a commitment to education in their mother language, as well as increased political rights.
"The city's Kurds want fairer political representation, decentralization and an end to all forms of discrimination in the laws and constitution," it said.
The ban on Kurdish in court and government offices undermines equal access to justice and services, the report said.
Kurds there also demand legal reform to end mass arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions of non-violent activists on terrorism charges, it said.
Among its recommendations to local community leaders, were calls for them to renounce PKK violence, acknowledge the government's positive reform steps and cooperate with government representatives.
The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union as well as Turkey, has stepped up its attacks on the Turkish military this year.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Turkey and the PKK since it took up arms against the state in 1984 with the aim of carving out an ethnic homeland in the southeast.
The conflict has ravaged the region economically. Once Turkey's third best off economic centre, Diyarbakir and its surrounding province have fallen to 63rd place, the ICG said.
It said the government should ensure that Diyarbakir receives a fair share of public funds, particularly for education, international airport facilities, railway connections and industrial zones.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jon Hemming)