Turkey’s Kurdish rebels declare ceasefire

ANKARA (AFP) — Turkey’s rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on Saturday ordered a unilateral ceasefire effective October 1 in operations against the Turkish military.

“The only path to resolve the region’s problems is through democratic dialogue, and to give life to a democratic and modern system that respects national or religious differences,” said the party’s second-in-command Murat Karyilan on Saturday, in a statement sent to AFP.

The declaration was first reported by the pro-Kurdish Firat News agency. “The length of this truce will depend on the steps that are taken and the developments that occur,” the agency said, quoting a rebel statement.

Arms will not be used as long as the Turkish army launches no attacks aimed at wiping out the rebellion, Firat News added.

No military movements will take place except for “logistics and precaution,” the statement, issued by an umbrella organisation for the PKK party and other groups known as the Kurdistan People’s Community (KKK), added.

“The aim of all officials, organisations and associations … of the movement for democracy and freedom of Kurdistan is the success of this ceasefire process,” it said.

The declaration came two days after jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan appealed to the PKK to call a ceasefire.

“I call on the PKK [to declare] a ceasefire,” Ocalan said, in remarks carried through his lawyers. “…So long as we aren’t the target of total destruction, the PKK must absolutely not use weapons.” The Kurdish leader also appealed to Turkish authorities not to consider the declaration a mark of “weakness,” but as an occasion for reconciliation between Turks and the country’s Kurdish minority.

The “chance could be the last one,” Ocalan warned.

The PKK’s call was rejected by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who demanded instead that Kurdish separatists lay down their arms.

“A ceasefire is done between states. It is not something for the terrorist organisation,” Erdogan said.

The PKK’s announcement coincided with a decision by the United States to name an special envoy to coordinate the fight against the rebel group with Turkey. Erdogan holds talks in Washington Monday with US President George W. Bush on measures to take against the rebels.

During a visit to Ankara Wednesday, the new US envoy, General Joseph W. Ralston, also said Washington sought “visible” measures against Iraq-based PKK rebels, and to eliminate the threats they posed.

The PKK took up arms for self-rule in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast in 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

It is the fifth time that the rebel group, classed as a terror organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, has called a truce.

The most recent was in 1999 after Ocalan was arrested. It took up arms again in 2004 and has significantly increased its attacks since, particularly this year.

Saturday’s announcement came as Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported that a Turkish soldier had been killed by a landmine in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country.

The mine was planted by the PKK, the report quoted authorities as saying.

The incident occurred in a rural area near the Iranian border as soldiers were carrying out a search operation. A second soldier received light injuries.

Since the start of the year 79 members of the Turkish security forces and 110 rebels have been killed, according to an AFP count based on figures provided by the army.

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