Öcalan says PKK might withdraw from Turkey in August


27 February 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN WITH REUTERS, İSTANBUL – Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), envisions the withdrawal of his fighters from Turkey by August under a draft peace plan sent to his group’s leadership and Kurdish politicians, media reports said on Wednesday.

Held in an island prison since his capture in 1999, Öcalan has been negotiating with the government since October over the outlines of a deal to end a conflict which has killed at least 40,000 people since his fighters took up arms in 1984.

Under the plan, to which the PKK is expected to respond within two weeks, the militants would begin a formal cease-fire on March 21, or Nevruz, the Kurdish New Year, said the Sabah and Star newspapers.

They said the terrorist group’s withdrawal from Turkish territory was planned for completion by Aug. 15, the 29th anniversary of the conflict that has destabilized Turkey and held back development in its mainly Kurdish Southeast.

This timetable is dependent on Turkey passing reforms increasing the rights of a Kurdish minority numbering about 15 million — about 20 percent of Turkey’s population of 76 million. Newspaper reports say Öcalan’s plan maintains Turkey’s unitary structure, with no demand for Kurdish autonomy.

Since the start of peace talks, Turkish authorities have been saying that the negotiations are initially aimed at disarming the PKK. “No one should stand up and demand anything that is aimed at harming our national unity,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters late on Tuesday. “If they put down their weapons and leave our country, there are many places in the world they can go,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made comments regarding Öcalan’s role in the peace process on Wednesday. In televised remarks aired on the NTV news station, Arınç said: “We are going through a fragile process. We would like all political parties to contribute positively. Essentially, we set disarmament and withdrawal [of the PKK] as our priorities when we started. Öcalan has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison and the conditions of his prison term are set. These are facts. If we are focusing on disarmament, Öcalan is an important actor.” He said those politicians who spoke against Öcalan on a daily basis also know these facts. “That we have the facts doesn’t mean we will glorify him. We are trying to see how we can take advantage of this actor for Turkey, and how it could be possible for him to wield more influence over the PKK.” He described the government’s strategy as rational. “Expectations are high in society. We need to decide on how Kandil [the PKK’s main base in northern Iraq] will respond and what the European wing [of the PKK] will say.”

In a related development, following a meeting between Öcalan and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies last week, the PKK said hostages it is holding are in “good condition.” Öcalan reportedly asked the PKK to begin releasing various officials it has kidnapped. Arınç also spoke about PKK hostages, saying: “There are district governors, village guards and military officers among them. We have the full list. They must have been taken to [PKK] camps or be hidden in Turkey. We are looking for these people, but if the other side tells us ‘we will deliver [these individuals] to you,’ we will be glad.”

During his decade in power, Erdoğan has pushed through reforms boosting Kurdish cultural rights, but Kurdish politicians seek wider political reforms, including a new constitution supporting equality and increased Kurdish language education. The PKK militants have pledged allegiance to Öcalan but voiced caution about the prospects of rapid progress towards a deal, criticizing continued military operations in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, where thousands of the militants are based. Among initial steps proposed under the process, the PKK could release more than a dozen Turkish security forces personnel it is holding captive. Senior PKK commander Duran Kalkan said, however, that any such release would depend on what steps Turkey takes. “No one should expect this from us unilaterally,” Kalkan said in an interview with the PKK-linked Fırat news agency. In talks with Kurdish politicians over the weekend, Öcalan warned that Turkey could become as troubled as Syria or Iraq if steps were not taken to end the insurgency.