Turkey govt party sees progress in Kurd rebel talks
Turkey govt party sees progress in Kurd rebel talks
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s chief adviser said on Monday Turkey had begun discussing disarmament with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, and on Thursday two Kurdish lawmakers paid a rare visit to Ocalan in his island prison.
“Talks have reached a certain stage, some important progress has been made and some results have been achieved, or will be achieved,” Nurettin Canikli, deputy chairman of the ruling AK Party’s parliamentary group, told reporters in Ankara.
“The aim is to end terrorism, all efforts are being made for this,” he said.
Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unpalatable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago.
Ocalan, who founded the organization in 1974 to fight for an independent Kurdish state, is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984.
Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence — which has included bomb attacks in major cities as well as fighting in the mountainous southeast — particularly with presidential elections next year in which he is expected to stand.
Murat Karayilan, the acting PKK leader who is sought by Interpol, was quoted as cautiously welcoming the talks but said the government must show it was serious and allow PKK fighters to have direct contact with Ocalan.
“It would be a shame if the current process resulted in efforts to dissolve the PKK rather than aiming at resolving the Kurdish issue,” he told Firat News, a website close to the PKK.
“For a solution, the Turkish side has to put its project on the table ... Nobody took up arms to have fun. There’s a reason why these armed groups exist,” he was quoted as saying.
Erdogan’s government has widened cultural and language rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s 75 million people, since taking power a decade ago. But Kurdish politicians want more reforms including steps toward autonomy.
In July 2011, a month after his AK Party won a third term, Erdogan proposed peace talks with the PKK, and leaked recordings indicated senior intelligence officials had held secret meetings with PKK leaders in Oslo.
But the initiatives ran aground, and the last nine months have seen some of the conflict’s bloodiest violence.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Ayla Akat Ata and prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk went on Thursday to Imrali, an island in the Marmara Sea where Ocalan has been in virtual isolation since his capture in 1999.
Few details of those or any previous talks have been made public.
“The Turkish government is not asking us to drop our guns, their demand has been to take our armed forces out of Turkey’s borders,” Karayilan was quoted as saying, adding that the group had been promised “safe passage” out of Turkey.
“Where are we expected to take them? To South Kurdistan? We have forces there already. But the Turkish side expects us to take the first steps, and how can we trust them,” he said, referring to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.
The PKK uses the remote Kandil mountains in northern Iraq as a base from which to stage attacks on Turkish territory.
With any hint of concessions to the PKK fiercely opposed by nationalists, it is not clear what the government believes it can offer to negotiate a truce.
The Radikal newspaper said on Friday one of the main issues discussed with Ocalan was a new Turkish constitution. Four political parties sit on a parliamentary commission set up after general elections in 2011 to forge a new constitution, which Erdogan has pledged will boost political freedoms.
Kurdish politicians have long demanded fairer representation and an end to discrimination in the nation’s laws.
Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest
- Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
- Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally
MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.
Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.