Kurdish Rebels Declare Cease-Fire in Turkey
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
ANKARA, Turkey, June 12 -- Kurdish separatist rebels declared a "unilateral cease-fire" Tuesday in attacks against Turkey and said they were ready for peace negotiations, but the group maintained the right to defend itself.
The statement came as the Turkish military has been building up its forces along the border with Iraq, threatening to stage a major incursion to pursue Kurdish rebels at their bases. Such an operation could ignite a wider conflict involving Iraqi Kurds and draw in the United States.
The Turkish government had no immediate response to the statement by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK.
The guerrillas have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey for more than two decades.
"We are renewing our declaration to halt attacks against the Turkish army," Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, the PKK official in charge of foreign affairs, said in northern Iraq, where the rebels have several bases.
"We want peace, and we are ready for negotiations. But if Turkey decides to attack our bases inside Turkey or inside Iraqi Kurdistan, then this unilateral cease-fire will be meaningless. If we are attacked, we will fight back, and we have the ability to confront any Turkish aggression," he added.
Turkish authorities generally ignore rebel statements, ruling out negotiations with "terrorists." Turkey has rejected several past cease-fires declared by the group, vowing to maintain its military drive until all rebels surrender or are killed.
In Washington, the State Department said the cease-fire is no substitute for a total end to activity by the PKK.
"The PKK is a terrorist organization," spokesman Sean McCormack said to reporters. "We take quite seriously the concerns of the Turkish government. They've lost lives . . . and it's an issue that needs to be dealt with."
It was unclear whether the PKK's announcement reflected a desire to ease pressure from the Turkish armed forces, or was a public relations effort to portray the rebels as peace-seeking and the military as the aggressor.
The rebels might also want to give Kurdish candidates in Turkish parliamentary elections next month a chance to make gains at the polls without being accused of links to rebel violence.
The PKK has accused the Turkish military of engineering the collapse of a unilateral rebel cease-fire declared last Oct. 1.
In the debate over whether Turkey should pursue rebels into northern Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that the country needs to focus on fighting the PKK inside its borders.