Monday 26 February 2018

Kurdish rebel chief urges ceasefire

PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan has called for a ceasefire (AP)
PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan has called for a ceasefire (AP)
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held secret talks with the Kurdish rebels in the past (AP)

Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has called for an immediate ceasefire and for thousands of his fighters to withdraw from Turkish territory, a major step toward ending one of the world's bloodiest insurgencies.

In a message read by pro-Kurdish MPs in the Kurdish and Turkish languages, Ocalan said: "We have reached the point where the guns must be silenced and where ideas must speak. A new era has started, where it is politics, not guns, which is at the forefront."

"We have reached the stage where our armed elements need to retreat beyond the border," Ocalan's message continued.

Turkey has embarked on talks with Ocalan to end the nearly 30-year conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives. His group has been fighting for self-rule for Kurds in south-eastern Turkey.

The message was read to hundreds of thousands of people who had gathered for a spring festival celebration in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east. People cheered as the announcement was made.

Turkey announced in December that it was talking to Ocalan with the aim of persuading his Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to disarm. The group is considered a terror organisation by Turkey and its Western allies.

Kurdish rebels have declared ceasefires in the past but these were ignored by the state, which vowed to fight the PKK until the end.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has also admitted to having held failed, secret talks with the PKK in past years, but this latest attempt - being held more publicly and with Ocalan's greater participation - has raised hopes for a successful negotiated settlement.

Press Association

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