Eyes on PKK to announce decision for withdrawal from Turkey

24 April 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – 25.4.2013 – Turkey’s focus is locked on an announcement to come from the commanders of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) about a decision to withdraw from Turkey as part of ongoing dialogue between state authorities and the imprisoned leader of the terrorist group.

Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Sebahat Tuncel on Wednesday said a press conference will be held on Thursday to make public its decision to withdraw from Turkey to the entire world. Tuncel’s remarks followed an earlier statement by another BDP deputy, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who said the terrorist group is likely to announce its decision to withdraw from Turkish soil on Thursday.It was previously claimed that the PKK announcement would come on April 24. When reminded about the claims, Önder said: “Either April 24 or 25. What difference does it make? Kandil [PKK commanders in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq] will make an announcement and the withdrawal process will begin,” in remarks to reporters on Tuesday evening as he attended an official reception in Parliament to mark National Sovereignty and Children’s Day.

Earlier this week, some newspapers claimed that PKK commanders are positive about withdrawing from Turkey as part of ongoing talks between Turkish state authorities and the imprisoned leader of the terrorist group, Abdullah Öcalan. The talks are commonly referred to as the “settlement process.” They are aimed at ending Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish and terrorism problems.

“There is no problem with the [settlement] process,” Önder also told reporters. He also said he believes that the government has the will to solve the Kurdish and terrorism problems. In a bid to resolve the country’s decades-old Kurdish problem, at the end of last year the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government launched negotiations with Öcalan, who is incarcerated in prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara. In past months, Öcalan, who, despite his 14 years in prison, still wields enormous clout over PKK terrorists as well as millions of nationalist Kurds in Turkey, called on PKK terrorists to lay down their arms and leave Turkey.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US, says it has half of its 7,000 terrorists in Turkey and the other half in northern Iraq, where it maintains its primary camps in remote, nearly impassable mountains. The Turkish government estimates the total number of terrorists to be lower than 7,000.

There are also reports that PKK terrorists based mainly in the eastern Black Sea region have started to leave the area. The terrorists are claimed to be headed for the “Dersim area,” a region which encompasses fundamentally Tunceli province in eastern Turkey, which is to serve as a rallying area from where they are then expected to set off once again to leave the country in the following weeks.The government wants PKK terrorists to complete their withdrawal from Turkey within two months at the latest, and Öcalan has called on senior PKK commanders to have their terrorists leave Turkish soil by June.

The AK Party government and Öcalan have agreed that the PKK should lay down its weapons and then leave Turkey. Senior PKK commanders are, however, reluctant to disarm before withdrawing because Turkish forces bombarded PKK terrorists when they retreated in 1999 on Öcalan’s order when he appealed for peace soon after his capture that year. The attacks reportedly resulted in the deaths of some 500 terrorists. Similar attacks occurred during another unilateral decision to withdraw in 2004.

PKK commanders are expected to announce their decision about whether to withdraw with or without their weapons on Thursday.The PKK has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far. Over the past several years, Turkey has taken significant steps to expand the cultural and political rights of Kurds, who have suffered from the Turkish state’s harsh policies against them over the past decades.

Gül: PKK should say good-bye to arms everywhere

President Abdullah Gül also spoke to reporters during the reception and said the country’s terrorism problem would be completely solved if the PKK says good-bye to weapons everywhere, not just inside Turkey. He also said everything is not a bed of roses in the settlement process and the process should be handled carefully and with patience. “We should not see everything through rose-colored glasses. I believe that we all should act and behave with common sense and contribute to the process. The process, supported by so many people, needs to be concluded successfully,” stated the president.

When asked for his comments about the possible withdrawal of PKK terrorists, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek said the withdrawal will have a positive impact on people’s perceptions about efforts to end terrorism, but the settlement is more than the withdrawal. He did not elaborate what the settlement process includes other than the withdrawal of PKK terrorists from Turkey. On Wednesday, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said his party would be “happy” if PKK terrorists left Turkey. “We will be happy. No one wants terrorists to exist in this country,” he told reporters. The party’s secretary-general, Bihlun Tamaylıgil, however, expressed doubt that the PKK would withdraw starting from Thursday. “We will wait and see if the withdraw will begin on April 25,” she stated.

The CHP supported the settlement process at the outset but has since withdrawn its support, accusing the government of failing to be transparent.

‘Military not withdrawing from east’

During the parliamentary reception on Tuesday evening, Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu denied media reports that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are withdrawing their armed troops deployed in the eastern and southeastern regions to allow the free and safe withdrawal of PKK terrorists.

“A withdrawal [of the military] from the regions is out of the question. Some troops have been sent to the western regions. This is a routine practice for the [upcoming] summer. This is ordinary,” he stated. The commander also said the military’s fight against terrorists continues in line with directives of the government and the authority vested in the TSK by law. “Our duty in the regions [east and Southeast] continues. Our troops carry on their [counterterrorism] activities as they did in the past,” Kıvrıkoğlu added.

Earlier this week, the General Staff posted a statement on its official website in which it said the TSK’s fight against terrorism is continuing. “The TSK’s fight against terrorists continues as set forth by the law and the government,” the short statement read. Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, in remarks to reporters during the reception, said members of the military will do “what the law tells them” as PKK terrorists withdraw from Turkey. He did not elaborate further.