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Kurd rebels ‘open’ to political deal, disarming

A Kurdish guerrilla group whose northern Iraq bases Turkey has threatened to attack said Friday it was “open” to discussing a political settlement that could lead to laying down arms.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Kurdish guerrilla group whose northern Iraq bases Turkey has threatened to attack said Friday it was “open” to discussing a political settlement that could lead to laying down arms.

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, said it was “open to dialogue based on a political project to start a process which will totally exclude arms,” according to the Firat news agency, which is close to the group.

Though it proposes trying to solve the Kurdish question peacefully, PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Also Friday, Turkish prosecutors launched a probe into the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party after it demanded autonomy for Kurds living in the country’s southeast. The prosecutor’s office in Ankara said it will examine the party’s statements to determine whether they violate Turkish laws against separatism and other organizing.

The action came amid heightened tensions over how the country should deal with separatist Kurdish rebels. “Anyone who has destructive aims and goals against this country is the enemy of the Turkish people,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Troops poised to strike
Turkish troops are poised for a possible cross-border offensive against PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. A series of hit-and-run attacks by rebels has left nearly 50 dead, primarily soldiers, since Sept. 29.

Government and military officials recently discussed how a cross-border operation should be organized, in case the government decides to launch one, Turkey’s top general said Friday, according to the private NTV television.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit told reporters that the government consulted with the military shortly after Oct. 21, when a rebel ambush killed 12 soldiers. The military is ready for a cross-border operation, he said.

The Democratic Society Party, which won 20 seats in parliament in July elections, demanded more rights for the Kurdish minority and autonomy for the Kurds living in the southeast.

“It is envisaged that each autonomous section is represented with its own colors and symbols and creates its own democratic administration, although the national flag and official language remain valid for the entire nation of Turkey,” the party said in a statement Friday.

During its congress a day earlier, the party elected Nurettin Demirtas chairman, and he quickly pressed for rights for Kurds similar to those granted to Turks in Bulgaria.

Demirtas was once convicted of membership in the PKK as a student and spent some 10 years in prison. He replaced Ahmet Turk, who stepped down from the party’s chairmanship for health reasons.

Group calls for decentralization
The Democratic Society Party also called for decentralization and the establishment of regional assemblies, which would independently be in charge of social services, education, cultural activities and developing regional economies.

Under the proposed model, the governors who are now appointed by the central government also would receive orders from the regional assemblies, the party said.

The party also called for the recognition of Kurds in Turkey as a distinct minority and said it was ready to broker peace between Turkey and Kurdish rebels. Around one-fifth of Turkey’s 70 million people are Kurds.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

During the communist era, Bulgaria’s Turks were under pressure to change their names and were deprived of the right to use their language, religion and customs.

That ended in 1989 after 320,000 people fled to Turkey, leading to international pressure on the Bulgarian government to give rights to the remaining Turks. Most of the Turks who fled to Turkey later returned to Bulgaria.

“In Bulgaria, the problems of Turks were solved by giving them rights. We also want to solve these problems through democratic autonomy and the constitution,” daily Milliyet quoted Demirtas as saying.