Kurdish rebel leader calls for cease-fire, say Turkey’s parliament must draft new constitution

ANKARA, Turkey – The jailed Kurdish rebel leader on Monday urged fighters to extend a cease-fire by several months to allow a new Turkish constitution to address their demands, but his followers refused to immediately rule out further attacks.

Abdullah Ocalan’s word carries enormous weight with rebel commanders in the field. But the group said in a statement it was coming under attack from Turkish forces and authorities were still arresting Kurdish activists.

“Taking into consideration these developments and the ambiguous nature of the current political climate, our movement has decided to discuss and evaluate the appeal of our leader in a comprehensive manner and declare our stance during the following week,” the statement from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, said.

The rebel group, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the West, is fighting for autonomy in Turkey in a conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. A Turkish campaign to grant more rights to Kurds stalled amid a nationalist backlash, but the government has promised to address the issue as part of an overhaul of the constitution.

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In a message relayed to his group through his lawyers, Ocalan urged the new parliament to immediately start working on a new constitution, the rebels said. He called on PKK fighters to avoid clashes and only defend themselves if attacked.

Ocalan had previously threatened to end the cease-fire on June 15, and warned of increased violence by his rebel group unless Turkey’s government agreed to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Ocalan no longer runs rebel operations since his capture in 1999, but he retains considerable sway over the guerrillas, who are mostly in hiding in bases in northern Iraq.

The rebels also said Ocalan had met with a group of state officials on June 14, two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party won a third term in office.

Last year, state officials travelled to Ocalan’s prison island a few times to talk with him, his lawyers said. Turkey says it does not negotiate with the outlawed group, but has acknowledged that intelligence agents have talked to Ocalan for years.

The Kurdish minority makes up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s 74 million people, and has traditionally been a target of state discrimination.

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