September 30, 2010 / 2:34 PM / 10 years ago

Turkey's Kurdish rebels extend ceasefire for month

QANDIL MOUNTAINS, Iraq (Reuters) - The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel group extended a ceasefire with Turkey by one month on Thursday, a move it said is meant to foster efforts to end a war that has killed 40,000 people.

Talks this month between Turkish officials and Abdullah Ocalan, the militants’ jailed leader, had encouraged the group to continue the ceasefire, according to Ocalan’s stand-in.

“This dialogue is very important and presents an important chance for peace,” Murat Karayilan, the PKK’s acting leader, told journalists called to meet him near one of the guerrillas’ bases in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 to carve out an ethnic homeland in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. It has since scaled back its demands to greater autonomy and Kurdish cultural rights.

Karayilan outlined measures he said Turkey should take for a lasting ceasefire, including continuing talks with Ocalan and work on a new democratic constitution.

“If real efforts at peace that build mutual trust take shape over the next month we will turn this into an unlimited ceasefire. If not, we will re-evaluate,” he said.

Karayilan went on to warn that the PKK would renew fighting if the Turkish military steps up operations in coming months.

The PKK resumed a unilateral truce on August 13 after a 2-1/2 month period in which more than 100 Turkish soldiers were killed.

Turkey in the past has rejected the PKK’s ceasefires and has continued military operations against the group, which is branded a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, which Ankara seeks to join.

But there is media speculation that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government and Kurdish politicians are engaged in diplomatic efforts to persuade the PKK to declare a permanent ceasefire, raising hopes of a possible end to the conflict.

Erdogan’s government has expanded the cultural and political rights of Turkey’s estimated 14 million minority Kurds, who complain of discrimination at the hands of the state.

Erdogan has also said he intends to rewrite Turkey’s constitution if his AK Party wins a third consecutive term in power in a general election due by mid-2011.

Still, peace has been elusive, as PKK guerrillas have refused to lay down their arms and Turkish authorities have arrested scores of Kurdish politicians for suspected links to the rebels.

The largest pro-Kurdish party in parliament was banned by the Constitutional Court late last year, a step criticized by the government. (Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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