Jailed Kurdish Leader Urges Opposition to Lay Down Arms

Jailed Kurdish Leader Urges Opposition to Lay Down ArmsJailed Kurdish Leader Urges Opposition to Lay Down Arms

The jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan called on his followers to take a “historic” decision to lay down their arms, according to a statement on Saturday, a crucial step in Turkey’s drive to end the rebels’ 30-year struggle for greater autonomy.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the call but said the rebels had failed to deliver on previous pledges.

Sirri Sureyya Onder, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), read a statement from Ocalan that urged the PKK followers to attend a planned congress on disarmament.

“We are in the process of ending the 30-year of conflict in the form of a perpetual peace, and our primary goal is to reach a democratic solution,” she said in a joint press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan.

Ocalan has been serving a life term in prison on an island south of Istanbul since 1999 but retains influence over his fighters. He has been working with Erdogan since 2012 to negotiate a ceasefire, Al-Jazeera said in a report.

Akdogan said the move towards disarmament marked “an important phase” in the resolution process. “We view this statement as important to accelerate the work on disarmament ... and for democratic politics to come to the forefront.”

The statement listed series of 10 measures that Kurds demand to ensure peace, including drafting a new constitution. Erdogan is also seeking a new constitution, in an effort to give his office more executive powers and to replace a charter drawn up by technocrats after a 1980 military coup.

Clashes between the Turkish government forces and the Kurdish opposition have claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

  Ongoing Negotiations

In late 2012, Erdogan launched jailhouse talks with Ocalan, who declared a ceasefire in 2013, but the peace process stalled. Many Kurds blamed the impasse on the Turkish government’s failure to follow through on promised reforms, and the PKK will likely wait for signs of progress before agreeing to disarm.

The government, for its part, appeared skeptical that fighters would implement the plan. “Of course calls are good, but what is most important is implementation,” Erdogan said at a news conference. “How much will implementation be reflected in the field ahead of an election?”

Facing a parliamentary election in June, the government said it expected Ocalan to declare an end to the PKK’s armed struggle for greater autonomy and cultural rights for Turkey’s estimated 15 million Kurds.

The PKK’s units have joined other Kurds to battle Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Less than two weeks ago, the PKK warned the government that negotiations could break down unless it took concrete steps to further the peace process.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union have designated the PKK as a “terror” organization. The rebels declared a ceasefire in Turkey in 2013, but violence still sporadically erupts.

  Erdogan in Mecca

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived Saturday night in Mecca. He was welcomed in King Abdulaziz International airport in Jeddah city in the west by Governor Bin Macit and Turkish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yusun Demirer.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, the Turkish leader will perform Umrah before proceeding to Riyadh on Monday to meet the new King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Before departing from Istanbul on Saturday, Erdogan said in a press conference that the visit marks an occasion to boost cooperation between the two countries in all fields and discus the ongoing crises in the Middle East.

“We will discuss the latest situation in Syria, Palestine, Libya, Egypt and Yemen,” Erdogan said, adding that the war against terrorism will be another topic high on the agenda.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met King Salman in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to conduct talks on the situation in Yemen among other things, while Erdogan is slated for a Monday meeting.

In statements on Saturday, el-Sisi said the synchronization of his visit with the Turkish president’s was a coincidence. Erdogan also ruled out a meeting and said “serious positive steps need to be taken” for such a meeting to happen.