Turkey’s Kurdish rebels hail ‘historic’ disarmament call

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday welcomed Ocalan’s call as ‘very important’

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Kurdish rebels on Sunday hailed as “historic” a call for disarmament made by their jailed leader for disarmament and said Turkey should speed up reforms to move the peace process forward.

Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) imprisoned on an island near Istanbul, had on Saturday urged the separatists to hold a congress on disarmament in the coming months.

“Such a goodwill statement presents a unique chance to advance democracy and resolve the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s basic problems,” the PKK said in a statement.

“The government should fulfill its responsibilities in a timely and proper manner and take sweeping, concrete steps,” it said.

The disarmament call was also praised by the European Union as a key step in efforts to end Turkey’s long-running Kurdish insurgency that has claimed some 40,000 lives.

The PKK also said that they wanted to speak with Ocalan “directly” and “immediately” to ensure that the peace talks continue to progress.

Currently, pro-Kurdish lawmakers shuttle between Ocalan’s prison on the island of Imrali and the inhospitable Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where the PKK leadership is based.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday welcomed Ocalan’s call as “very important” but cautioned that earlier calls made by the Kurdish rebels had failed.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking support from Turkey’s estimated 15 million Kurds in parliamentary elections in June in order to change the constitution and imbue Erdogan’s office with more executive powers.

But at the same time the party is keen to prevent any outbreak of violence ahead of the election campaign and is introducing a bill that boosts police powers to crack down on protests -- a move the PKK has called on the government to abandon.

The ostensible trigger for the bill was pro-Kurdish violent protests in southeastern Turkey and Istanbul last October that left scores of people dead.

The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating an independent Kurdish state, but has since scaled back its demands to greater autonomy for Kurds.