Turkey seeks talks with Iraq-based Kurdish rebels: deputy PM

AFP
Female members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) take position on the front line in Makhmur, south of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq where clashes with Islamic State militants are ongoing on August 9, 2014
Female members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) take position on the front line in Makhmur, south of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq where clashes with Islamic State militants are ongoing on August 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Safin Hamed)

Ankara (AFP) - Turkey wants to hold direct talks with Kurdish rebels based in Iraq to help revive stalled peace talks, a senior Turkish official said Tuesday.

The military headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- which has waged a 30-year insurgency against the Turkish authorities for self-rule -- is in the Kandil mountains of northern Iraq.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said Turkey's negotiating team with the Kurds would be expanded to hold talks for the first time with the PKK militants in Iraq.

So far, negotiations have been largely conducted with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on the Imrali prison island off Istanbul.

"It is my intention that our new delegation will directly meet with Kandil" militants, Atalay told private NTV television.

His comments came after Ocalan said Saturday the insurgency was coming to an end, in a message released after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured the presidency in an August 10 vote.

Since it came to power in 2002, Erdogan's government has taken steps to boost the rights of Turkey's largest minority, granting them limited rights including education in Kurdish in private schools.

The PKK declared a ceasefire in March last year but the process has come to a standstill after the rebels suspended their retreat from Turkish soil, accusing Ankara of failure to move on promised reforms.

Ahead of the presidential election, parliament passed a new reform bill aimed at easing the negotiating process with the Kurds., and this may give the process new impetus.

Atalay said the government had fulfilled its share "to a great extent" and the next step was to draw up a roadmap.

"We ourselves will finish the work of clarifying a roadmap. We will share it with our institutions and then we will share it with the other party," he said referring to the PKK.

Atalay said Ocalan would be informed of the action plan through negotiations with Turkey's MIT secret service.

"Later the negotiations will be expanded," he said, adding that if necessary a team of top security officials would go to Imrali for talks with Ocalan.

The PKK is classified as a terrorist group not just by Turkey but also the United States and the European Union, complicating its role in the US-backed Kurdish actions against jihadists in Iraq.