Reports: Kurdish rebels to heed call for peace

By the Associated Press | March 22, 2013 | 1:28 PM EDT

Some thousands of supporters demonstrate waving various PKK flags and images of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, in southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, Thursday, March 21, 2013, as Ocalan called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire and for thousands of his fighters to withdraw from Turkish territory, a major step toward ending the fighting for self-rule for Kurds in southeastern Turkey, one of the world's bloodiest insurgencies lasting nearly 30-years and costing tens of thousands of lives. A Nowruz fire seen in the background. Nowruz, the Farsi-language word for "new year", is an ancient Persian festival, celebrated on the first day of spring, March 21, in Central Asian republics, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. (AP Photo)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A senior Kurdish politician said Friday that the Kurdish rebels' armed struggle against Turkey was "99 percent over," a day after the rebel leader called for a cease-fire and retreat and the insurgents gave a positive response.

Imprisoned Kurdish 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, 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.

Rebel commander Murat Karayilan has indicated that guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, would heed the call, according to Radikal newspaper and the pro-Kurdish Firat News website.

"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 has been leading the PKK from bases in northern Iraq since Ocalan's capture in 1999.

Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party, said Ocalan's message signaled that the armed struggle was almost over. Demirtas said, however, that the government needed to set up an independent committee that would ensure the safe withdrawal of several thousand rebels from Turkey's territory.

"Ninety-nine percent of the armed struggle linked to the Kurdish issue is over," Demirtas said. "The other one percent is up to the government."

The Kurds are seeking guarantees that the rebels would not be attacked by Turkish security forces during the pull-out.

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 conflict 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 settlement.

On Friday, Erdogan said he hoped the initiative would bring lasting peace to 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."