* From jail, Abdullah Ocalan calls for disarmament
* Erdogan cautiously welcomes call
* No date yet set for disarmament congress
(Adds Erdogan’s comments)
By Ayla Jean Yackley
ISTANBUL, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Jailed Kurdish militant leader
Abdullah Ocalan called on his followers to take a “historic”
decision to lay down their arms, according to a statement on
Saturday, a crucial step in Turkey’s drive to end a 30-year
insurgency by Kurdish rebels.
Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, welcomed the call but
cautioned the rebels had failed to deliver on previous pledges.
Sirri Sureyya Onder, a lawmaker from parliament’s
pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), read a statement
from Ocalan that urged the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to
attend a congress on disarmament in the spring months.
“I invite the PKK to attend an extraordinary congress in the
spring months in order to make the strategic and historic
decision to abandon the armed struggle,” Onder said, quoting
Ocalan, with whom an HDP delegation met this week.
Onder spoke live on television alongside Deputy Prime
Minister Yalcin Akdogan, who said the move towards disarmament
showed “an important phase in the resolution process has been
reached,” after the two sides met briefly in Istanbul.
“We view this statement as important to accelerate the work
on disarmament … and for democratic politics to come to the
forefront,” Akdogan said.
The statement also attributed to Ocalan 10 measures that
Kurds want to ensure peace, including a new constitution which
Erdogan is also seeking – to imbue his office with more
executive powers and to replace a charter drawn up by
technocrats after a 1980 military coup.
Erdogan has risked a nationalist backlash to pursue an end
to the insurgency that has claimed more than 40,000 lives,
mostly Kurdish, since 1984, launching jailhouse talks with
Ocalan — once derided as a “baby killer” — in late 2012.
“Of course calls are good, but what is most important is
implementation. How much will implementation will be reflected
in the field ahead of an election?” Erdogan said at a news
“I hope (they) will stand behind these statements.”
Facing a parliamentary election in June, the government has
said it expected Ocalan to declare an end to the PKK’s armed
struggle for greater autonomy and cultural rights for Turkey’s
estimated 15 million Kurds.
The PKK’s units have joined other Kurds to battle Islamic
State in Syria and Iraq. Kurdish victories, especially in the
Syrian town of Kobani, have raised worries in Ankara about an
emboldened PKK at the bargaining table.
Less than two weeks ago, the PKK warned the government
negotiations could break down unless it took concrete steps to
further the peace process.
“With today’s events a critical point has been reached in
Turkey’s democratisation, the expansion of freedoms and for
lasting peace,” said HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas, whose
deputies have shuttled from Ocalan’s island prison near Istanbul
to Qandil mountain in northern Iraq, where the PKK is based.
The disarmament congress would be held after consensus on
the measures outlined in the statement is reached, he said. It
was not clear who would attend the conference or whether PKK
forces outside of Turkey would be expected to lay down arms.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union list the
PKK as a terror organisation. The militants declared a ceasefire
in Turkey in 2013, but violence still sporadically erupts.
(Editing by Rosalind Russell)