Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, once Turkey's most sought after fugitive, said today that various Turkish governments and a senior military official had approached him over the past several years to negotiate a peace settlement with his insurgent movement.
Speaking during the second day of his treason trial here on a prison island in the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul, Ocalan said members of his outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party met with a Turkish army colonel in Europe last year to discuss ways to end the rebel group's 15-year battle for self-rule in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast region. And in 1993, he said, a cease-fire was brokered with then-President Turgut Ozal through an Iraqi Kurdish leader.
Ocalan's testimony contradicted the public stance of successive governments, which have said consistently that they would refuse to negotiate with him. But there have been persistent rumors of covert contacts between Turkish officials and rebel representatives aimed at ending the Kurdish insurgency. Ocalan is facing the death penalty on treason charges arising from his leadership of that insurgency, which has taken more than 30,000 lives.
A Turkish official at the trial dismissed Ocalan's claims as "ridiculous," but Ocalan said he had a copy of a letter sent to him in 1996 by Necmettin Erbakan, then Turkey's prime minister, in which he asked Ocalan's men to lay down their arms so the government could proceed with a massive economic reform program for the impoverished Kurdish provinces.
Ocalan said the letter was in an archive in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Ocalan was based there until last October, when Syria expelled him, forcing him into a quest for asylum that lasted four months and ended with his capture in February by Turkish agents in Kenya. Ocalan did not explain why none of the truce initiatives had succeeded, and the presiding judge did not seek clarification.
In other testimony, Ocalan confirmed prosecutors' charges that his group had received training in various European countries, including Greece and the Netherlands, saying this was done with the full knowledge of officials there. He also repeated appeals made in court Monday that his life be spared so he could "serve the Turkish state" by helping negotiate an end to the separatist conflict.
His denial of many of the charges listed in a 139-page indictment read aloud Monday infuriated scores of relatives of slain Turkish soldiers present at the trial. He blamed many rebel attacks against Turkish and Kurdish civilians on a power struggle within his separatist faction in the early 1990s. "I have always been opposed to killing civilians," he said.