Middle East

Official: Turkey talking to jailed Kurdish leader

Masked demonstrators display a picture of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and PKK flags during a peace day rally in Istanbul in this September 1, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/Files

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey is holding talks with the Kurdish rebels' jailed leader to press the autonomy-seeking guerrilla group to relinquish arms and end its decades-long conflict, a senior official was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser, Yalcin Akdogan, insisted in an interview with Taraf newspaper that the discussions were aimed at convincing the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to lay down its arms for good.

He said Turkey was not seeking any kind of a temporary truce, similar to those the PKK has declared in the past and which critics say allow the group to recoup before resuming attacks on Turkish military targets.

"The basic aim of the meetings is not a temporary ceasefire but to push the organization to put down its arms," Taraf quoted Akdogan as saying.

Akdogan's comments came days after Erdogan also said Turkey's intelligence agency has resumed discussions with rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life term on a prison island off Istanbul. "As long as we see a light we'll continue to talk. If there is no light, we'll stop there," Erdogan said, without providing details on the discussions.

Turkey - which has been torn between a desire for reconciliation with Kurds and its stated aim of battling a group it regards as terrorists - has admitted holding secret discussions with Ocalan and other PKK members in recent years. Officials have said those talks failed.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the rebels - who are seeking self-rule for Kurds in southeast Turkey - took up arms in 1984. Turkey's Western allies also label the group a terrorist organization. The Kurdish minority comprises more than 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people.

The resumption of talks with Ocalan comes amid a surge in violence this year which has killed hundreds of PKK rebels, Turkish security force members and civilians.

Ocalan, imprisoned since 1999, is believed to still hold sway over the PKK. Last month, at Ocalan's request, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners ended a hunger strike they had started to demand more rights for Kurds and improved jail conditions.

Erdogan's government has granted unprecedented rights to Kurds since coming to power in 2002, including opening a Kurdish-language television station and allowing optional Kurdish language courses in schools. But prospects of a solution appear remote due to Turkish public opposition to granting greater concessions, including political autonomy, to the Kurds.

The recent increase in violence follows the arrests of thousands of Kurdish activists, including elected mayors and journalists, who are accused of membership in an umbrella organization prosecutors say is linked to the PKK. Many Kurds also are angered that no one has been held to account for military air strikes last year that killed 34 Kurdish civilians, many of them youngsters, who were mistaken for PKK fighters.





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