PKK Says Open to Peace Deal with Turkey

QANDIL MOUNTAINS (AP)–Kurdish rebels say they have enough weapons to defend themselves against Turkish raids on their bases in northern Iraq but remain open to a political settlement with Turkey that recognizes Kurdish national identity. Turkey is pressing Iraq and its American ally to crack down on rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who launch attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The group has been waging a bloody war in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has claimed 37,000 lives. The Turks have not ruled out military incursions into Iraq to hunt PKK fighters, despite US fears that such a move could lead to tensions with Iraqi Kurdish groups, important allies of the US in Iraq. During an interview last week with the a PKK mountain stronghold, a spokesman for the PKK insisted that the rebels have the weapons to resist any Turkish incursion. "Our fighters are training very hard since we heard the Turkish threats," Rustam Jawdat said. "We have enough fighters to defend ourselves." He added that the PKK was open to a deal — but on its terms. "We want to solve the problem with Turkey peacefully. We have simple weapons. If we have guarantees to recognize Kurdish national identity, we would not need to carry weapons," he said. The interview occurred in a PKK base in the rugged mountains of northern Iraq. Access to the camp was on foot, and the fighters would not allow photographs of the area for security. Jawdat indicated the rebels are more confident now because they believed Kurdish politicians would put pressure on the United States, and by extension Turkey, to avoid any armed incursion. "Now the Iraqi Kurdish leaders are against any Turkish interference to the Iraqi territories," Jawdat said. He noted that both Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the leader of the Kurdish self-ruled administration in Iraq, Massoud Barzani, had spoken out strongly against any Turkish move into Iraq. On Thursday, Retired US Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, a special envoy tasked with countering the PKK, said in Washington that the US is addressing Turkish complaints about PKK activity and that reducing the PKK threat to Turkey would go a long way toward improving US-Turkish relations. "As the snows melt in the mountain passes along the Turkish-Iraqi border in several weeks, we will see if the PKK renews its attacks and how the Turkish government chooses to respond," Ralston said. Jawdat said the PKK was willing to work with the Americans and Europeans to resolve the conflict with Turkey. "America and the European Union should know that we will not give up our weapons as long as (the Turks) do not accept our rights and do not recognize our national identity," Jawdat said. "It is impossible to get the right of self-determination in the Middle East without using armed struggle."

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