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Ocalan sees Turkey pullout by August: reports

Hundreds of Turkish nationalists march on February 24, 2013 on Istiklal Avenue to protest at the resumption of peace talks with Kurd rebels, saying they sullied the memory of soldiers killed in the near three-decade conflict. (AFP PHOTO /OZAN KOSE)

ISTANBUL: Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed Kurdish militant leader, is proposing to withdraw his fighters from Turkey by August if Ankara pushes through reforms under a draft plan to end a 28-year insurgency, media reports said Wednesday.

Imprisoned on Imrali island near Istanbul since 1999, Ocalan has since October been discussing a deal with Turkey’s government to end a conflict that has killed 40,000 people since his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms in 1984.

Under the plan, sent to Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party as well as the PKK leadership, the rebels would begin a formal cease-fire on March 21, the Kurdish New Year, said the Sabah and Star newspapers, which are close to the government.

The PKK is estimated to have around 2,000 fighters in Turkey, with several thousand more in bases in northern Iraq. Their withdrawal from Turkish territory under the plan would be completed by Aug. 15, the 29th anniversary of the start of a conflict that has destabilized Turkey and held back the development of its mainly Kurdish southeast.

The 20-page road map, handwritten by Ocalan, has not been published and the accuracy of the reports could not be confirmed. They said Ocalan was due to finalize it in mid-March.

A member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which received the plan Tuesday, played down the timetable and said no decisions had been made.

Idris Baluken told Reuters that Ocalan had outlined his ideas in the document and had asked the BDP as well as the PKK leadership in northern Iraq and in Europe to respond with their thoughts in the next two weeks.

“Ocalan wants to know whether the government is sincere or not,” Baluken said. “We want to talk positively but we have not made much progress politically.”

The success of the process depends on Turkey passing reforms increasing the rights of a Kurdish minority numbering about 15 million – around 20 percent of Turkey’s population.

Ocalan’s plan contained no demand for Kurdish autonomy, reports said.

“Nobody should stand up and demand anything that is aimed at harming our national unity,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters late Tuesday.

“If they put down their weapons and leave our country, there are many places in the world they can go,” he said.

During his decade in power, Erdogan has pushed through reforms boosting Kurdish cultural rights. But Kurdish politicians want wider moves, including new constitutional guarantees for the Kurds and more Kurdish language education.

Ocalan’s plan seeks recognition of Kurdish identity in the constitution and the strengthening of local administration – steps that would follow a PKK withdrawal – as well the release of thousands of Kurdish activists jailed pending trial on charges of links to the PKK, Sabah reported.

Erdogan is taking a political risk with the process, given the strident opposition of nationalists to negotiating with a man they dub the “baby killer” and “monster of Imrali.”

Opposition to the process may also emerge among Kurds.

Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Kurdish BDP, sought to assuage worries on both sides.

“Turks should not be worried that Turkey will be divided and Kurds should not be worried that they will not get their rights and freedoms,” he told reporters.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 28, 2013, on page 9.

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