PKK warns Turkey to progress reforms by September
The Turkish government must take concrete steps to advance a peace process with Kurdish militants by September or risk a return to hostilities, the co-head of the rebels’ political wing was quoted as saying yesterday.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the government opened peace talks last October with the goal of ending a conflict which has killed 40,000 people in three decades and stunted the development of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
However, the process has faltered in recent weeks, with Ankara complaining that a withdrawal by PKK fighters into northern Iraq is happening too slowly.
The fragility of the peace process has been highlighted by isolated militant attacks on military outposts.
“Steps must be taken now. September 1 is the deadline,” Cemil Bayik, who was promoted deputy to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this month, told Firat News, a website with links to the militants.
“If there are no steps underway by September 1, then it will be understood that the aim is not peace... In that case, the freedom movement and Kurdish people will defend itself.”
The delicate process has taken on an additional ur- gency for Turkey as Kurdish militias fighting in neighboring Syria’s civil war push for greater autonomy for parts of northern Syria, just over the border.
Ankara is concerned that a violent struggle for greater Kurdish independence there could embolden the PKK on Turkish soil and jeopardize the peace process.
Kurdish leaders have called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to launch reforms set out under peace talks with Ocalan, but Ankara has said the Kurds need to keep their side of the bargain by speeding up the withdrawal of their fighters to northern Iraq.
The reforms include steps to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority. These would cover withdrawing anti-terrorism legislation under which thousands have been imprisoned for links to the PKK.
They would also grant full Kurdish-language education rights and lower the threshold of votes which parties need to enter parliament.
The PKK issued what it said was a “final warning” to the government two weeks ago: take concrete steps now or be responsible for the peace process grinding to a halt.