ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy responded positively to a call by their imprisoned leader for peace with Turkey, which includes a cease-fire and the withdrawal of thousands of fighters from the Turkish territory, news reports said Friday.
Rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is engaged in talks with Turkish officials to end a nearly 30-year-old conflict, appealed to his fighters on Thursday to cease hostilities, in a major step toward ending one of the world's bloodiest insurgencies. His message was read by Kurdish legislators at a spring festival attended by hundreds of thousands of Kurds.
Turkey's Radikal newspaper and pro-Kurdish Firat News agency said Friday that rebel commander Murat Karayilan has indicated guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, would heed the call.
"Everyone should know that the PKK is prepared for both peace and war," Firat News, which is close to the rebels, quoted Karayilan as saying. "On this basis we will, with determination, put into practice (the terms) of the process which was started" by Ocalan.
Karayilan, who has been leading the PKK from bases in northern Iraq since Ocalan's capture in 1999, did not provide a timetable. Turkey's Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has said withdrawal could continue until the end of the year.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has been fighting for autonomy and greater rights for Kurds in Turkey. The fight has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. Turkey announced in December that it was talking to Ocalan with the aim of persuading the PKK to disarm.
The Turkish government reacted cautiously to Ocalan's call for peace, saying it was a positive development but that Ankara wanted to see whether it would be implemented by the rebels. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish security forces would cease operations against the rebels after the PKK fighters withdraw.
Kurdish rebels have declared cease-fires in the past, but these were ignored by the state, which had vowed to fight the PKK until the end. Erdogan's government has admitted to having held failed, secret talks with the PKK in past years, but this latest attempt — held more publicly and with Ocalan's greater participation — has raised hopes for a successful negotiated settlement.
On Friday, Erdogan said he hoped the initiative would bring lasting peace for Turkey.
"Today is the day for the guns to be buried, for the bloodshed to stop and for the tears to be wiped away," he said. "We have gone through very painful days. We don't want our children to go through the same."