Kurd Leader Urges Southeast Turkey Development Plan

ANKARA (Reuters)–The head of Turkey’s main Kurdish party urged the government on Tuesday to develop the southeast of the country–a poor region ravaged by 15 years of violence–the state-run Anatolian news agency said.

Fighting has died down since Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan–sentenced to death last year for treason–ordered his Kurdistan Workers Party guerrillas to end their armed struggle and shift their aims to securing cultural rights.

People’s Democratic Party (HADEP) leader Ahmet Turan Demir–who was given a one-year jail sentence last week for making “separatist propaganda,” said the government should launch a comprehensive economic development plan for the remote region–Anatolian said.

“We are sincerely ready to provide the greatest support to the prime minister’s efforts and the smallest steps taken by the government,” it quoted Demir as saying.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit promised in January to allocate 40.5 trillion lira ($114 million) to the southeast over the next few years–but admitted last month that financial difficulties had held up the funds.

Ecevit is expected to visit the region next week to discuss its needs with local officials. Similar economic initiatives have failed in the past–as the conflict has increased unemployment and encouraged mass migration to Turkey’s more affluent west.

The HADEP leader also called on the government to allow Kurds who left their villages at the height of the fighting to return. Turkey’s military emptied thousands of villages in the mountainous southeast in the mid-1990s–citing the need to cut off logistical support to the guerrillas.

Demir’s HADEP fared well in municipal elections in April but fell short of the threshold for sending members of parliament to the legislature. The party itself faces a possible court ban on charges that it aided Ocalan’s supporters.

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