Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish guerrilla group declares end to hostilities

AP , ANKARA

The Kurdish separatist group declared a "unilateral ceasefire" in attacks against Turkey, saying on Tuesday it was ready for peace negotiations, but insisting on the right to defend itself.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), issued the statement as the Turkish military intensified operations against the guerrillas in the country's southeast, on the border with Iraq. The rebels have been fighting more than two decades for autonomy in Turkey.

"We are renewing our declaration to halt attacks against the Turkish army," Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, the PKK official in charge of foreign affairs, said in northern Iraq, where the rebels have several bases.

"We want peace and we are ready for negotiations. But if Turkey decides to attack our bases inside Turkey or inside Iraqi Kurdistan, then this unilateral ceasefire will be meaningless. If we are attacked, we will fight back and we have the ability to confront any Turkish aggression," he said.

Turkish troops have massed at the frontier and shelled Iraqi territory while pursuing rebels, drawing criticism from the Iraqi government and raising fears that the conflict could draw in its NATO ally, the US.

The Turkish government had no immediate response to the PKK statement.

Authorities generally ignore rebel statements, ruling out negotiations with "terrorists." Turkey has rejected several past ceasefires declared by the group, vowing to maintain its military drive until all rebels surrender or are killed.

In Washington, the US State Department seemed unimpressed with the ceasefire, saying it was no substitute for a total end to activity by the PKK, which Washington has designated a "foreign terrorist organization."

"Look, if there aren't innocent lives that are lost as a result of violent actions by a terrorist group, I think that that is a positive thing," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "But is it a solution? No."

"The PKK is a terrorist organization," he said. "We take quite seriously the concerns of the Turkish government. They've lost lives, innocent lives have been lost, and it's an issue that needs to be dealt with."

It was unclear if the PKK announcement reflected a desire to ease pressure from the Turkish armed forces, or was a public relations effort to portray the rebels as peace-seeking and the military as the aggressor.

The rebels might also want to give Kurdish candidates in Turkish parliamentary elections next month a chance to make gains at the polls without being accused of links to rebel violence.

The PKK has accused the Turkish military of engineering the collapse of a unilateral rebel ceasefire declared on Oct. 1 last year.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the country needed to focus on fighting the PKK inside its borders, amid a debate over whether Turkey should pursue rebels into northern Iraq.

"There are 500 terrorists in Iraq; there are 5,000 terrorists inside Turkey. Has terrorism inside Turkey ended for us to think about an operation in northern Iraq?" he told reporters.

Later on Tuesday, Erdogan chaired a two-hour security meeting to discuss measures against the rebels.

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