Jailed Kurdish militant says conflict with Turkey could be settled in six months: brother

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A three-decade conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants could be resolved within six months if talks were to be revived, the jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said, according to remarks by his brother on Monday.

They were the first public comments from Ocalan in more than a year, after the government suspended visits to his island prison in April 2015, and they come at a time of violence and political upheaval.

“He said that if the state is ready for this project, we can finish it in six months and that the previous (peace) process has not been completely wiped out,” Mehmet Ocalan quoted his brother as saying, at a news conference in Diyarbakir on Monday.

“‘This is not a war that one side can win. It’s time for the bloodshed and tears to end,’ he said.”

Thousands have died since July 2015, when a ceasefire with the armed PKK, which Ocalan founded, collapsed. Ocalan had negotiated that truce from his prison cell, where he’s been kept since 1999 on a treason conviction.

In the latest violence, suspected Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants set off a car bomb on Monday near government offices in the city of Van, wounding scores of people. The attack came a day after the mayors of 24 Kurdish-run municipalities who were suspected of PKK links were stripped of office.

So far, the Turkish government has shown little sign it will seek a negotiated solution to the latest spasm of violence. The crackdown has coincided with a purge of journalists, politicians, government workers, soldiers, teachers and others after a failed coup attempt in July.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who backed two-year peace talks with Ocalan before the fighting re-ignited, has said the campaign against the PKK - called a terrorist group by the United States and European Union - was now Turkey’s largest ever.

Mehmet Ocalan, who is the first family member to see his brother in two years, said that the 68-year-old was in good health. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture saw Ocalan in April 2016.

The government allowed the family visit before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and after about 50 Kurdish activists began a hunger strike, demanding an end to Ocalan’s isolation. The group said at the news conference they would abandon their eight-day action after the visit took place.

Ocalan’s last contact with the outside world was in April 2015, with parliamentarians from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who were acting as mediators in the peace process. Weeks later, the pro-Kurdish HDP saw significant gains in a general election, depriving the ruling AK Party of single-party rule for the first time in 13 years.

The HDP accuses the government of reviving the conflict to regain control, which it did in a Nov. 1 re-run election. Erdogan and the AKP reject any such claim.

The autonomy-seeking PKK took up arms in 1984, and more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in the fighting.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, editing by Larry King