Jailed Kurdish leader Ocalan seeks to revive peace talks

March 22, 2014 - 6:21:33 am

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: The imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan used the anniversary of his party’s historic ceasefire yesterday to call for a fresh start to peace talks in Turkey.

“The process of dialogue is important, although we still have not reached an agreement”, said Ocalan, in a message read to 200,000 people assembled to celebrate the Kurdish new year in Diyarbakir, a city in south-eastern Turkey. 

“This is the reason why we still don’t have a guarantee of lasting peace.”

Ocalan announced the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK)’s unilateral ceasefire on March 20, 2013 after many months of secret negotiations with the head of the Turkish intelligence services, the MIT. But peace talks stalled in September after the PKK accused Ankara of failing to implement promised reforms. The group cancelled a planned move of its forces off Turkish territory to bases in northern Iraq.

In his letter, Ocalan said there needed to be a clearer legal framework for the peace talks.

“The dialogue that continues today has been important. It has allowed both sides to test their goodwill and competency. Both sides have passed this test with determination, even if the government resorted to delaying tactics,” his note read.

“Peace is more difficult than war, but in every war there is peace,” he said. “We were not afraid while resisting and we will not be afraid while making peace either.

Despite the lapse in negotiations, the conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced a raft of reforms last year aimed at strengthening the rights of minorities, including the teaching of Kurdish in private schools.

Many Kurds say the reforms do not go far enough. The PKK is calling for the release of jailed Kurdish prisoners and political militants, as well as for the right to teach in Kurdish in public schools.

Ocalan was arrested in Kenya in 1999, and was initially sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment after the death penalty was abolished in Turkey.AFP