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Kurdish militant leader ‘to call ceasefire’

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AP

File image - Kurds carry a banner with a portrait of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, during a demonstration. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Istanbul - Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan will call a ceasefire at the Kurdish New Year in March, moving forward a peace process with Turkey aimed at ending his group's 28-year-old insurgency, media reports said on Monday.

Ocalan, head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has been holding peace talks with Turkey since last October and met a delegation of Kurdish politicians at the weekend to discuss the negotiations.

At those talks, on the island of Imrali near Istanbul, he signalled the PKK may release Turkish state officials it is holding, according to a statement read by the politicians. Several newspapers on Monday reported details of a timetable to end a conflict which has killed more than 40 000 people.

“Ocalan will make a ceasefire call to the PKK at Newroz for a lasting peace,” the liberal Radikal daily said, referring to the March 21 Kurdish New Year. The Yeni Safak newspaper, which is close to the government, carried a similar report. They did not disclose their sources.

Only a few Turkish officials are familiar with details of the negotiations and MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who visited Ocalan on Saturday only conveyed the brief statement from the PKK leader.

“My health is good but I am getting old. I want to see peace before I die,” the Milliyet daily quoted Ocalan, 63, as saying in Imrali where he has been held in virtual isolation since his capture in 1999.

The timetable for ending the conflict envisages a gradual withdrawal of several thousand militants from Turkey after the ceasefire call and Yeni Safak said the PKK fighters would begin leaving Turkey between March and June.

In return the government is expected to push through reforms extending the rights of a Kurdish minority numbering around 15 million out of a total population of 76 million. Last week the government sent to parliament a penal reform bill which is expected to result in the release of some of the thousands of Kurdish activists who are currently on trial accused of links to the PKK.

The PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey but it has moderated its goal to limited self-rule.

A 21-page record of the talks between Ocalan and the BDP was delivered to the PKK leadership in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq on Saturday night and Ocalan's 61-page peace plan was being delivered to the PKK separately, Yeni Safak said.

It added that the PKK was expected to release several security personnel and officials which it holds this week, while its fighters in Turkey were ordered to keep away from military areas. There was no immediate comment from the PKK.

The PKK holds nine people, including soldiers and civil servants, according to the Diyarbakir-based Human Rights Association. - Reuters


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