ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Kurdish militants issued what they said was a “final warning” to Turkey on Friday to take concrete steps to advance a peace process aimed at ending a three-decade insurgency, or be responsible for it grinding to a halt.
Jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and Ankara launched peace talks last October to halt a conflict which has killed 40,000 people and blighted Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
Kurdish leaders have called on the AK Party (AKP) government to launch reforms set out under the talks, but Ankara has said the Kurds need to keep their side of the bargain by speeding up the withdrawal of their fighters to northern Iraq.
“As a movement we are warning the AKP government for the last time ... If concrete steps are not taken in the shortest time on the subjects set out by our people and the public, the process will not advance and the AKP government will be responsible,” the PKK said on one of its websites.
The reforms include steps to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority, including abolishing an anti-terrorism law under which thousands have been imprisoned for links to the PKK, granting full Kurdish-language education and lowering the threshold of votes which parties need to enter parliament.
As the process has faltered, there has been an increase in militant activity in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, which commentators say will complicate the government’s task of enacting reforms without inflaming nationalist sentiment.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has invested considerable political capital in the process ahead of elections next year and is facing the biggest test of his decade in power after weeks of often violent anti-government protests.
The PKK said there had been repeated calls for Ankara to allow an independent team of doctors to visit Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali, south of Istanbul, but the government had failed to respond. Ocalan, known by his followers as Apo, is known to suffer from an eye ailment.
“The sincerity in the settlement process of a government which approaches the Leader Apo’s health in this way is now seriously being questioned and doubted by our movement, our people and democratic public opinion,” it said.
The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union, also accused the government of supporting Islamist groups involved in clashes with Kurds in northern Syria. Ankara rejects those accusations.
“We call on the AKP to abandon rapidly this hostile approach shown to the national democratic rights of the Rojava (Syrian) Kurds and to cut its links with al Qaeda groups,” it said.
A Syrian Kurdish party with links to the PKK seized control this week of a Syrian town on Turkey’s border after days of clashes with Islamist fighters, prompting Ankara to repeat its opposition to an autonomous Kurdish region emerging there.
“We have always said that de facto situations on a sectarian or ethnic basis in Syria are unacceptable and will result in greater crises,”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara that Turkey had always opposed the emergence from the conflict of autonomous regions along sectarian or ethnic lines, warning they would “result in greater crises”.
Friday’s statement from the PKK’s umbrella political group came just over a week after a veteran militant viewed as a hawk was appointed as co-head of the group, stoking speculation it will take a harder line.
The PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, but subsequently moderated its goal to regional autonomy. Kurds represent around a fifth of Turkey’s population of 76 million people.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Heavens