Ankara agrees on a peace plan with Kurdish rebels

Updated 10 January 2013
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Ankara agrees on a peace plan with Kurdish rebels

ANKARA: The Turkish government and jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan have agreed on a road map to end a three-decade-old insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, media reported yesterday.
The deal was reached during a new round of talks between Ankara and Ocalan and aims to have the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) lay down arms in March, a private news network reported.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government recently revealed that Turkish intelligence services had for weeks been talking to Ocalan, who has been held on the island prison of Imrali south of Istanbul since his capture in 1999.
During a visit to Niger yesterday, Erdogan warned the government would uphold its tough line on the PKK: “I repeat again, our fight with the terrorist organization will continue.”
“Terrorist organization ranks need to lay down weapons and withdraw from Turkey,” before further steps can be discussed, he said.
Under the reported peace roadmap, the government would be expected to reward a ceasefire by granting wider rights to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, whose population is estimated at up to 15 million in the 75-million nation, according to unofficial figures.
The rebels also want the release of hundreds of Kurdish activists held in prisons over links to the PKK as well as the recognition of Kurdish identity in Turkey’s new constitution, according to media sources.
But Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) warned the talks were not at the stage of fully-fledged ceasefire negotiations, arguing Ocalan would have to be freed first and given a chance to consult the grassroots.
“The conditions between the parties are just not equal,” BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas told fellow lawmakers on Tuesday. “And by that, no, I do not mean Erdogan going into Imrali,” he said.
Officials have not confirmed the roadmap published in the media.
Hopes of a breakthrough on the Kurdish issue were heightened when two Kurdish lawmakers were allowed to visit Ocalan last week for the first time.
But the resumption of Kurdish rebel attacks against Turkish security forces since then have overshadowed the developments.
On Monday, one soldier and 14 rebels were killed in southeastern Hakkari city near the border with Iraq, raising fears that more attacks may come from hawkish rebel wings to disrupt the process.
“The terrorists have always done their best to sabotage any step initiated for peace,” Erdogan said regarding Monday’s attack.
Around 45,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting between Turkish security forces and the rebels.
PKK took up arms in 1984 under Ocalan’s command, to obtain self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast.
Previous talks floundered after the PKK leadership demanded the release of Ocalan.


Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

Updated 21 May 2018
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Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

  • “The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city
  • The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery

MOSUL: Atop an enormous mound of rubble under blistering sun in Iraq’s second city Mosul, fire crews and police chip away at a grim but vital task.
Some 10 months after dislodging the Daesh group, they are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City.
“Over three days, 763 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and buried,” Lt. Col. Rabie Ibrahim says.
Despite the overpowering stench, the men work relentlessly, braving unexploded munitions in an area devastated by the nine-month battle.
“The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city, Ibrahim says.
Civilians’ bodies that can be identified are handed to their families, while the remains of Daesh combatants are buried in a mass grave on the western outskirts of Mosul.
Some of the putrefied corpses are sent to Nineveh province’s health services, Ibrahim adds.
The workers, their faces covered with masks or scarves, move with great caution.
The bodies of jihadists are sometimes still clad in suicide belts.
Grenades, homemade bombs and other crude contraptions left by Daesh fighters during their retreat to Syria pose a constant threat.
The improvised boobytraps are hidden under multiple layers and obstacles — the rubble of collapsed homes, disemboweled furniture and uprooted trees, in some places subsiding into the waters of the Tigris that meander murkily below.
Where a maze of cobbled streets was once lined with homes and market stalls, there is now a formless mess populated by stray animals, insects and disease.
The destruction is so great that some residents cannot pinpoint the remnants of their homes or even their street as they try to direct salvage workers to the remains of loved ones.
The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery, says General Hossam Khalil, who leads Nineveh province’s civil defense force.
His men therefore have to rely on smaller vehicles, but Mosul “only has a few,” he says.
There is a pressure to work as quickly as conditions will allow: residents are exhausted by three years of Daesh rule, nine months of brutal urban combat and now the slow pace of reconstruction.
“But it’s impossible, with this stench, this pollution and the epidemics they can cause,” says Othmane Saad, an unemployed 40-year-old whose home in the old city is entirely destroyed.
Another resident, 33-year-old Abu Adel, wants the authorities “to clear all the corpses as quickly as possible” and to “compensate residents so they can rebuild, then establish public services.”
But the task is titanic.
Since Mosul was retaken in July, “2,838 bodies, including 600 Daesh members, have been retrieved from the rubble,” governor Naufel Sultane says.
Even after the corpses are taken away and buried, they leave harmful bacteria which the Tigris can carry far beyond the old city.
The authorities insist drinking water stations are unaffected and that they pump water from the Tigris’ central depths, avoiding the banks and other shallows.
But gastroenterologist Ahmed Ibrahim advises caution.
“You must boil water before drinking it and don’t use river water, either for bathing or washing,” he says.
Birds and fish “can carry typhus, bilharzia and gastroenteritis,” he adds.