July 29, 2009
By SELCAN HACAOGLU (AP)
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's government said Wednesday it is prepared to grant more rights to the nation's Kurds in an effort to end the 25-year insurgency by Kurdish rebels.
But Interior Minister Besir Atalay provided no details of the plan and despite his conciliatory language the challenge of persuading thousands of Kurdish rebels to lay down their arms is likely to be long and difficult.
The rebels want an unconditional amnesty that includes their leaders, but the government has said it had no plans to expand laws that enable lower-ranking rebels to avoid prison by renouncing their past and sharing intelligence.
Kurdish activists have said imprisoned rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan will announce a "roadmap" to end the conflict ahead of Aug. 15, the date when the guerrillas first took up arms in 1984. They are fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast, and the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. Many of the insurgents' attacks are launched from hideouts in northern Iraq.
Turkey has refused talks with the rebel group _the Kurdistan Workers Party — but has acknowledged that military action alone will not end the conflict. The United States and the European Union have joined Turkey in labeling the group a terrorist organization.
"Come on and join this process, let's solve this problem that has cost so much and seized our future," Atalay said at a nationally televised news conference Wednesday. "We have the intention to take determined, patient and courageous steps."
He said the government was working on a plan to give more rights to Kurds, and he invited opposition parties and institutions to contribute to a national consensus.
Atalay did not give a timeframe for a Kurdish initiative, saying details would be disclosed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Under pressure from the EU, Turkey has granted greater cultural rights to Kurds, including the launch earlier this year of a 24-hour television channel broadcasting in the once-banned Kurdish language.
Private NTV television said Wednesday that the government's plan may include moves to allow the use of Kurdish names for thousands of villages whose names had been changed to Turkish, allow Kurdish prisoners to speak in their mother tongue during prison visits, expand Kurdish language broadcasts to private TV stations and set up Kurdish language faculties.
Some Kurds welcomed the government's initiative.
"We will fulfill our responsibilities," said Sirri Sakik, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party. "It is the common problem of everyone living in this country."
But the party's leader, Ahmet Turk, insisted that Turkey must end its military drive against the rebels.
"Operations must stop," Turk said. "The problem is multidimensional and no time should be wasted."
Mehmet Emin Aktar, the head of the Bar Association in the largely Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir, said: "No one has patience for more blood and tears."
Turkey's far-right Nationalist Action Party accused the government of offering concessions.
"This initiative threatens the future of Turkey. It is dividing the country along ethnic lines and preparing the ground for negotiations with the terrorists," said Oktay Vural, a senior lawmaker of the Action Party. "The more demands are met, the more they will ask for."