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PKK Fighters Halt Withdraw from Turkey

Michael Johnson

Rebel fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced Monday that they would stop withdrawing from Turkish soil as part of a planned agreement with the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Citing the “irresponsible attitude” of leaders in Ankara to Kurdish interests in the peace process, the group said it would remain committed to a ceasefire for the time being.

PKK fighters, headed by their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, declared a ceasefire in March 2013 and started to withdraw fighters into Northern Iraq in May. In exchange, the Turkish government, lead by the Islamist AK party, agreed to enact reforms aimed at improving Kurdish rights. But neither side has fully implemented the agreement. In August, Erdogan accused the PKK of only withdrawing 20 percent of its 2,500 fighters. At the same time, Erdogan failed to bring a package of reforms before parliament that could allow more Kurdish-language education programs and devolve greater power to the mostly Kurdish southeast.

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members stand at attention after arriving in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk on May 14, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

Pessimism over the continuing peace talks seems to be spreading, according to Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party. Since negotiations are primarily based on direct communications between government officials and Öcalan, there is limited room for outside agreements among other members of the armed group.

Considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Turkey, the PKK began its insurgency in the 1980s. Since then more than 40,000 people have died from attacks related to the PKK or the Turkish retaliations. In 1999, Turkish officials arrested Öcalan, giving Ankara increased leverage over the insurgency. Late last year, the Turkish government announced it had begun negotiating with Öcalan to persuade the PKK to disarm.

The stalled peace talks come only as the most recent setback for Turkey’s PM within the past few months. Syria’s civil war on Turkey’s southern border now looks more likely to involve regional powers and the country’s economy continues to feel the affects of protests earlier this year.