PKK rebels begin with­drawal from Turkey

Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party fight­ers begin move to north­ern Iraq’s Qandil moun­tains as part of peace process.

Kur­dish rebels have started their grad­ual retreat from Turkey to bases in north­ern Iraq, a Kur­dish party leader said, kick­ing off a key stage in the peace process with the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment aimed at end­ing one of the world’s blood­i­est insurgencies.

 

Gul­tan Kisi­nak, a joint leader of a major pro-​Kurdish polit­i­cal party in Turkey, said a first group of rebel fight­ers started their advance toward the bor­der with Iraq on Wednesday.

The Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party, or PKK, declared a cease-​fire in March and agreed to with­draw guer­rilla fight­ers from the Turk­ish ter­ri­tory, heed­ing a call from its impris­oned leader, Abdul­lah Ocalan, who is engaged in talks with Turkey to end a nearly 30-​year bat­tle that has cost tens of thou­sands of lives.

The group, which has sought greater auton­omy and more rights for Turkey’s Kurds, has, how­ever, rejected a Turk­ish gov­ern­ment demand that they lay down arms before leav­ing the Turk­ish territory.

The PKK’s com­man­der, Murat Karay­i­lan, has said that the group won’t dis­arm until Turkey enacts demo­c­ra­tic reforms increas­ing the rights of Kurds and intro­duces an amnesty for all impris­oned rebels, includ­ing Ocalan.

Esca­lat­ing violence

The PKK rebel com­mand warned late last month that they would strike back if they were attacked.

“Our forces will use their right to retal­i­ate in the event of an attack, oper­a­tion or bomb­ing against our with­draw­ing guer­rilla forces and the with­drawal will imme­di­ately stop,” PKK leader Murat Karay­i­lan had warned.

Mass with­drawals in 1999 were dis­rupted when Turk­ish forces ambushed depart­ing rebels, killing around 500 and wreck­ing con­fi­dence in per­ma­nent peace.

Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan has repeat­edly vowed tha retreat­ing rebels “will not be touched”.

He said Tues­day that “lay­ing down weapons” should be the top pri­or­ity for the PKK, black­listed as a ter­ror­ist group in the West, for the process to succeed.

Karay­i­lan said in April that they were expect­ing Ankara to “do its part” before giv­ing up arms, and called for wider con­sti­tu­tional rights for Turkey Kurds, who con­sti­tute 20 per­cent of the 75 mil­lion population.

A per­ma­nent peace could trans­form Turkey’s impov­er­ished Kurdish-​majority south­east, where invest­ment has remained scarce and infra­struc­ture insuf­fi­cient due to the threat of clashes.

It will also impact Erdogan’s polit­i­cal future, after he braved a severe nation­al­ist back­lash to reveal nego­ti­a­tions with Ocalan.

Mil­lions of Kurds are expect­ing Ocalan, who nar­rowly escaped a death sen­tence in 2002 after Euro­pean Union pres­sure, to be par­doned and join politics.

Ocalan said in March peace call that a cease­fire would be the begin­ning of a “new era” for the Kur­dish movement.

Source: Aljazeera and Agencies

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