Friday, July 23, 2010

PKK: "We Will Lay Down Our Weapons!"

PKK 'would disarm for Kurdish rights in Turkey'

21 July 2010

Murat Karayilan (28 October 2009) Murat Karayilan said he would order his fighters to lay down their weapons under UN supervision

The leader of a Kurdish rebel group engaged in a guerrilla war with Turkey has told the BBC it is willing to disarm in return for greater political and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, as well as the EU and US.

If an agreement were reached, it would bring an end to a 26-year-old conflict.

A Turkish government official said it was "not in the habit of commenting on statements made by terrorists".

The offer was unequivocal, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, who met PKK leader Murat Karayilan in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mr Karayilan said he would order his fighters to lay down their weapons, under the supervision of the United Nations, if Turkey agreed to a ceasefire and met certain conditions.

His demands, he said, included an end to attacks on Kurdish civilians and arrests of Kurdish politicians in eastern Turkey.

The group has also been fighting for more linguistic and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds, which by some estimates constitute one fifth of the country's population.

"If the Kurdish issue is resolved in a democratic way through dialogue we will lay down our weapons, yes. We will not carry arms," he said.

But his offer of peace was accompanied by a threat.

"If the Turkish government refuses to accept that, we will have to announce independence."

PKK fighters in northern Iraq (28 October 2009) The conflict between the PKK and Turkey reached a peak in the mid-1990s

A genuine bilateral ceasefire would represent a major breakthrough in the conflict between Turkey and the PKK, which began in 1984 and has claimed the lives of around 40,000 people.

But any unilateral declaration of independence or autonomy would almost certainly be seen as an escalation by the Turkish government from a group which it - and most Western governments - considers a terrorist organisation.

For the moment, the PKK continues to carry out attacks inside Turkey from its bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey has over the past few months responded with air strikes and even incursions by ground forces into Iraqi territory.

Both sides say they only target combatants. Each accuses the other of killing civilians.