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Turkey Cautiously Welcomes Kurdish Cease-Fire Call

  • RFE/RL

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan poses in front of Turkish flags after he arrived at the prison island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara, in February 1999.

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan poses in front of Turkish flags after he arrived at the prison island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara, in February 1999.

The Turkish government has cautiously welcomed a call for a cease-fire by jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Speaking during a visit to The Hague, the Netherlands, on March 21, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it "a very positive approach...a very positive appeal," adding, "But what is most important is how far this will be implemented."

Erdogan added that Turkish security forces will end operations against Kurdish rebels if Ocalan's call is implemented.

He was speaking hours after Ocalan called on Kurdish fighters to end hostilities and withdraw from Turkey.

FIVE THINGS You Should Know About Ocalan's Cease-Fire

The message from the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was read by Kurdish lawmaker Sirri Surayya Onder at a huge rally in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.

"The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders" of Turkey, Onder said. "It's not the end, it's the start of a new era."

Ocalan's statement said the door was opening for the democratic process in Turkey and it was time to "let guns be silenced and politics dominate."

The government is expected to institute reforms that would help ensure equal rights for Turkey's Kurds and give more power to local authorities in Kurdish areas.

As part of the cease-fire, Kurdish fighters are being asked to withdraw to their bases in the mountains of northern Iraq.

The PKK leader had written a letter earlier that he would make a "historic call" on Norouz, the New Year's celebration marked on the spring equinox by Muslims living in areas from Turkey to Central Asia.

'Language Of Peace'

The March 21 announcement was read to a crowd estimated at more than 200,000 in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. Tens of thousands also heard the statement in other cities and towns of southeastern Turkey, the traditional homeland of Kurds.

The cease-fire call came after months of negotiations with Turkish intelligence officials.

Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler reacted to Ocalan's statement by saying, "The language is the language of peace, we must now see it put into action."

Ocalan has been imprisoned on an island in the Sea of Marmara since his capture by Turkish forces in Kenya in 1999.

About 40,000 people have been killed in Turkey since 1984 in fighting between Turkish government forces and Kurdish rebels.

The conflict also drained Turkey's state coffers and reports of rights abuses committed during the years of war have been a major obstacle to Turkey's attempts to join the European Union.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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