ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s Kurdish rebels have accused the army of endangering an agreed pullout of rebel fighters from the mostly Kurdish southeast, due to start on Wednesday, with surveillance drones and large-scale movements of men and equipment.
Top Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) commander Murat Karayilan ordered his fighters last month to begin withdrawing to bases in northern Iraq as part of a plan to end three decades of conflict with the Turkish state.
However, huge distrust remains. The PKK has not accepted a government demand that its fighters should lay down their weapons before withdrawing, fearing that they could come under attack, as they did in a previous pullback. The army has made clear that the suspicion is mutual.
“The constant reconnaissance activity of unmanned aerial vehicles is delaying the withdrawal process,” the PKK said in a statement. “The intensifying military shipments and movement in Kurdistan are not just affecting the withdrawal process negatively but laying the ground for provocations and clashes.”
The PKK said accelerated construction of military outposts and dams in southeast Turkey was also provocative. But it said it still expected the pullout to begin on time, with the first groups due in northern Iraq within a week.
Karayilan has warned that PKK fighters will retaliate if the Turkish army launches any kind of operation against them.
The rebels are expected to move in groups of around half a dozen in a process expected to take several months, monitored on the Turkish side by the MIT intelligence agency and across the border by the Kurdish regional government of northern Iraq.
The step-by-step peace deal negotiated by jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan with Turkish officials appears to offer the best chance yet of ending a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, and stunted the economy of an entire region.
Turkey appears to have tacitly accepted a certain ambiguity over disarmament to allow the peace process to go ahead - insisting that it must happen but leaving open how and under whose supervision.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Kevin Liffey