PKK starts withdrawing from eastern Black Sea

21 April 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – As part of the settlement process the government has launched, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists based mainly in the eastern Black Sea region have started to leave the area, a Turkish daily reported on Sunday.

A group of 30 PKK terrorists who were active in the provinces of Tokat, Sivas, Gümüşhane, Samsun, Ordu and Giresun has started, in small groups, to withdraw from the region, the Sabah daily maintained.The PKK terrorists are claimed to be headed for the “Dersim area,” a region which encompasses fundamentally the Tunceli province in eastern Turkey, which is to serve as a rallying area from which they are then expected to set off once again to leave the country in the following weeks.

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 Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK who has been in prison since 1999. 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 in letters he gave to deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who visited him in prison.The PKK terrorists are anxious that they may be attacked by Turkish security forces while they pull out and therefore, the PKK resists a withdrawal process in which they are required to leave the country without arms. In order to reassure the terrorists, BDP deputies also demanded that Parliament pass a law to ensure a safe withdrawal for the PKK.

The AK Party government is, however, cold to the demand, because it thinks passing a law for the PKK would mean to officially recognize the terrorist group. At the end of last month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, in a televised program, that the government would not allow Parliament to be involved in the settlement process and pass a law regarding the withdrawal of the terrorists. Erdoğan also insisted that the PKK should first lay down their arms, and then leave Turkish soil without weapons.

Turkish forces bombarded PKK terrorists as they retreated in 1999. Öcalan had appealed for peace soon after his capture that year and had ordered the retreat. The attacks reportedly resulted in the deaths of some 500 terrorists. Similar attacks occurred during another unilateral PKK decision to withdraw in 2004.

Governors in charge while PKK withdraws

In an effort to eliminate the PKK’s anxieties about being attacked by Turkish security forces while on their way out of the country, the government is working, Star and Sabah daily maintained on Sunday, on a protocol which will put the responsibility for security and launching operations against terrorists on governors in provinces. As per the protocol which will be based on the law for provincial administration, no internal security operation will be carried out unless the governor of the province instructs the security forces to take action.

Presently, the commander of an army unit needs to send evidence and intelligence necessitating a military operation against the PKK to the governor in a given province to seek his authorization for an operation and the governor’s signature signifies authorization. But according to the new protocol, this process will also be under a governor’s initiative.

The protocol, by putting the potential operations to be performed against PKK terrorists by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) under complete civilian control, aims to pave the way for a trouble-free withdrawal of the PKK terrorists from the country. TSK personnel also need legal protection in order not to be accused later of ignoring, that is, not taking action against, PKK terrorists in withdrawal who are, in the eyes of the law, criminals.

Army units such as infantry, commando and special operations forces, which serve under the command of the General Staff Interior Security Operations Department, stopped, for some time now, engaging in search operations targeting PKK terrorists on the terrain, after the PKK , observing a cease-fire, stopped its attacks. Now these army units which formerly carried out security operations against the PKK in the east of the country are to return to their barracks and police and gendarmerie forces, which are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, will take their place.

Previously, the armed forces needed to get authorization, the duration of which could extend as much as six months, from governors before conducting a security operation in a given province. Per the new protocol, governors can no longer issue long-term authorization for operations to security forces. While governors will be in charge of the security and control of the PKK terrorists’ withdrawal, police and gendarmerie units will assume a more prominent role in the area of security. Army units, on the other hand, will be kept ready in the background.

The new protocol also modifies the role village guards play in the security scheme in the eastern provinces. Village guards, who used to take part only in security operations with army units, are expected from now on to ensure security in cooperation with gendarmerie forces in rural areas. There are as many as 70,000 village guards and they will take security measures with gendarmerie units and stand guard as soldiers do.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had said at the beginning of the month that the process of withdrawal of the PKK terrorists will be overseen by the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT), while units of gendarmerie and Turkish armed forces, if they should be assigned to such a duty, could also have a role in the supervision of the withdrawal process.