ISTANBUL (Reuters) - From his island prison, Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has accused the fighters he commands of hampering his efforts to end a decades-old conflict and warned the Turkish government against any attempt to dictate terms.
In the transcript of a weekend meeting between Ocalan and Kurdish politicians published in Milliyet daily and confirmed by a party to the talks, Ocalan offered a first public insight into his role and apparent frustrations in a frail peace process.
Ocalan, captured by Turkish special forces in Kenya in 1999, expressed impatience with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) military command based in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq, suggesting they were less than enthusiastic about peace efforts.
“Even the PKK does not understand me. They see me like an older brother and father. I share their worries,” he said. “Qandil is pessimistic, it would be good if they get over it.”
“I‘m angry with them,” Ocalan said, voicing opposition to their “war system” or strategy.
Ocalan, 63, has been kept largely in virtual solitary confinement for most of the last decade and allowed a television set only recently.
There was no comment from the government on the publication of the transcript, which is reminiscent of the 2011 leaking of recordings of previous talks between the state and Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in Oslo. That leak helped derail efforts at that time to resolve the conflict.
The publication of such a statement of position by Ocalan will certainly anger some in Turkey. There is a strong conservative opposition to anything approaching a public role for someone accused by Ankara of indiscriminate killings and of threatening the fundaments of the Turkish state.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has denied leaking the transcript, in which Ocalan talks in detail about a withdrawal of fighters from Turkish territory, the release of prisoners linked to the PKK and constitutional reform.
The leader of the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, also betrayed unease about the intentions of the ruling AK Party and warned against any attempt to impose a solution on its terms.
“I hope the AKP does not misunderstand us. If they misunderstand there will be disaster. If the AKP tries to dictate to us, we will not accept,” he said.
The leaked transcript appeared on the same day that BDP lawmakers were delivering Ocalan’s peace plan to the PKK in Iraq and Europe, setting out his proposals for a rebel ceasefire and withdrawal from Turkey to end a 28-year conflict.
BDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Gultan Kisanak were in a group that flew to the city of Sulaimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan before meeting the PKK leadership, based in remote mountains bordering Turkey and Iran, media reports said.
Pervin Buldan, one of the lawmakers at the Ocalan meeting, traveled to Brussels to deliver a second letter to leading PKK figures in Europe, source of much of the financing of the group,
The missions had the tacit approval of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which has renewed efforts to resolve a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984, held back Turkey’s economy and damaged its human rights record.
Ocalan’s leaked comments may cast a shadow over a process that, according to surveys, has tentative public support.
Ocalan, serving a life sentence on the island of Imrali near Istanbul since a death sentence was commuted, has been holding talks with Turkish intelligence officials since last October with the aim of ending negotiations to end the insurgency.
The PKK had originally fought for an independent homeland in the Turkish southeast but is now demanding broad autonomy within Turkey.
BDP lawmakers met Ocalan at the weekend and his plan was handed over to the party on Tuesday. It contained a three-part solution to the conflict, including a ceasefire, withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkey and their disarmament before reintegrating some 7,000 rebels into society.
He suggested the planned withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkish territory would require parliamentary action.
“It will not be a unilateral withdrawal. The withdrawal will be a decision by parliament. It does not happen just by the prime minister saying, ‘They will withdraw and we will not interfere,'” he said.
He also warned of greater conflict unless all prisoners linked to the PKK are released.
“There will be no need for house arrest or an amnesty. We will all be free,” he said. “If I am successful there will be no prisoners left... If this does not happen there will be a people’s war with 50,000 people.”
Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Daren Butler; editing by Ralph Boulton