DIYARBAKIR (AFP/Reuters)–Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has warned Turkey of renewed warfare if it sticks by its refusal to negotiate the end of nearly two decades of conflict–a pro-Kurdish newspaper reported on Wednesday. In remarks carried by the ‘Ozgur Politika’ daily–Ocalan said his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) would wait until September 1 to see whether Turkey was ready to sit down and talk with rebels. "If [Turkey] does not change its attitude–the [PKK rebels] will take care of themselves. Roads will be blocked–fighting will break out–and the tourism industry will collapse," he said.
The PKK took up arms against the Ankara government in 1984–fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey’s southeast. The campaign has left more than 36,000 people dead. Following the capture of Ocalan in 1999–the PKK rebels ended the armed campaign and withdrew to northern Iraq to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
A Turkish military court originally sentenced Ocalan to death–but the sentence was commuted to life-in-prison last October after Turkey abolished capital punishment. He is currently the only inmate of a remote island jail.
His threat came as two PKK rebels turned themselves in to Turkish authorities to benefit from amnesty–in return for laying down their arms. The two rebels–who were in hiding in northern Iraq–surrendered at the Habur border with Iraq–just hours after the amnesty law came into force. The new law offers outright pardons and sentence reductions to PKK militants–but the group’s senior leaders and commanders are excluded.
The United States has backed the controversial law–which went into effect on Wednesday–hoping it will help end NATO partner Turkey’s standoff with the PKK fighters.
Turkey is hoping that the promise of amnesty will attract many of the 5,000 PKK rebels believed to have found refuge in northern Iraq. However–Ocalan told Ozgur Politika that Turkey was forcing the PKK into war by excluding its leadership from the amnesty. "They are leaving 100 people out of the law. They should know that there are at least 500 people loyal to each leader," he said.
"[Turkish officials] are saying–?[PKK rebels] cannot stay in Iraq or Iran.’ This amounts to calling them back to Turkey to fight," Ocalan said. "If war starts–hundreds will die in the first stage. Then–tens of thousands will die."
Ozgur Politika did not specify how it contacted Ocalan–but the rebel leader does occasionally talk to the press through his lawyers.
TURK POLICE KILLED NEAR IRAQ BORDER
Two Turkish police officers were killed and a third was wounded in a gun attack in southeastern Turkey on Wednesday–police said.
Gunmen tossed hand grenades and fired automatic weapons at a police checkpoint outside the town of Nusaybin in Mardin province near the border with northern Iraq. It is unclear who is behind the attack. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been active in the mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984–when it launched an armed separatist campaign that has claimed more than 30,000 lives. Fighting has dropped off sharply since the 1999 capture of KK commander Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK’s subsequent unilateral ceasefire. The PKK–also known as KADEK–withdrew most of its fighters into northern Iraq–but nerves are running high in the region following the US-led war in Iraq. Turkey on Wednesday enacted a U.S-backed partial amnesty–aimed mainly at the PKK–to encourage the guerrillas to surrender their arms for reduced jail sentences and end a stand-off with NATO partner Turkey that has worried Washington–which is trying to restore order in Iraq.