PKK dismisses Turkey withdrawal reports

Updated 01 February 2013
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PKK dismisses Turkey withdrawal reports

ISTANBUL: The Kurdish militant PKK group said yesterday media reports that its fighters had agreed to withdraw from Turkey as part of a peace pact to end their 28-year-old insurgency were lies and part of a psychological war.
A local newspaper said yesterday Kurdistan Workers’ Party guerrillas had agreed to withdraw to northern Iraq, where the group is based, by March 21 as part of peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan started late last year.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has staked much political capital on the talks, given the potential for a nationalist backlash ahead of elections next year.
Media reports in recent days of a planned pullout have fuelled optimism about progress towards an end to the conflict which has killed some 40,000 people.
The PKK statement denied those reports as well as others in Turkish media that said Ankara was in talks with the militants in northern Iraq.
“The stories on this subject are also completely invented lies,” the statement said. “These stories are activities in a deliberate psychological war aimed at manipulation.”
The newspaper said the PKK pullout would begin at the start of March when the weather in southeast Turkey turns milder. It said Ocalan, imprisoned on Imrali island south of Istanbul, was expected to issue a call within 10 days for the militants to declare a ceasefire after Kurdish politicians visit him.
The paper did not name its source. Only a few officials are involved in the talks and have not disclosed details publicly, with the government wary of endangering its support ahead of local and presidential elections in 2014.
The PKK said it fully supported Ocalan representing the group in negotiations and called for him to be allowed to hold talks with the rest of the rebel leadership. He has been held in near isolation since he was captured in 1999.
“Talks between the leader Apo (Ocalan), our leadership and elements in the KCK (rebel umbrella group) must be facilitated for the process to advance properly in a way that will achieve results,” it added.
The rebels took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Declared a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has since moderated its goal to one of autonomy.
In return for the withdrawal of the militants and their ultimate disarmament, the government is expected to boost the rights of Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s population of 76 million.
As part of those reforms, Turkey’s Parliament last week passed a law allowing defendants to use Kurdish in court in a move seen aimed at breaking a deadlock in the trials of hundreds accused of links to the PKK.
President Abdullah Gul approved the law late on Wednesday and a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir officially allowed the first Kurdish testimony on Thursday. Defendants have spoken in Kurdish before but on those occasions the court switched off their microphones.
The PKK are likely to be wary about pulling out of Turkey.


Travelers wait as fighting shuts runways in Libya

Updated 49 min 34 sec ago
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Travelers wait as fighting shuts runways in Libya

MISRATA, Libya: The queue snakes out of the departures hall and deep into the carpark at Libya’s small Misrata airport — the main remaining gateway in and out of the country since fighting shut down the last runways in the capital Tripoli.
The people lined up with their luggage are the lucky ones. Others wait for their chance to queue — sitting on the pavement, one man camped out on a stalled baggage conveyor belt, trying to get some sleep with his head resting on his suitcase.
Misrata airport on Libya’s northwestern Mediterranean coast processed three to four flights a day last month.
Then armed groups fighting for territory and influence 200 km (125 miles) further west fired rockets toward Tripoli’s main remaining air hub — the latest in a long line of clashes since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
Flights were rerouted to Misrata. Ever since, its warehouse-sized terminal has been packed with up to 6,000 passengers pouring on and off dozens of flights every day, say officials.
“Misrata airport is not capable of handling these numbers,” said Soliman Al-Jahimy, the airport’s spokesman.
In another part of the building, scores of migrants from other parts of Africa — who were stopped in Libya as they tried to get on to Europe — wait for UN flights to take them back home.
Elsewhere businessmen wait next to stranded families and elderly relatives in wheelchairs — hotels rooms are scarce in the city and flights are repeatedly delayed or canceled. Many wait for seven hours or more.
Beyond Misrata, the other options are a tiny airport in the western town of Zuwara, next to the Tunisian border, sometimes used by diplomats — and less busy airports in eastern Libya, a territory run by a rival administration, opposed to the UN-backed administration in the west.
All are clustered on the coast, far from the country’s southern desert hinterlands which are beset by their own chaos and fighting between tribes and other armed groups that shut the airport in that region’s main city Sebha in January 2014.
“Getting here was a disaster,” says Basheer Hassan, exhausted after his long trek to Misrata.
“There were no flights operating in the south to Tripoli or to Misrata, so we had to drive here and I suffered all the way.”