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Pro-Kurd Party Wants Amnesty for Separatist PKK Members - 2001-11-29

The leader of Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish party has renewed calls for a general amnesty for armed rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The chairman of the People's Democracy Party said some 5,000 PKK guerrillas still under arms pose a threat to Turkey's security.

Speaking at a news conference, Murat Bozlak chairman of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, or HADEP for short said some 5,000 PKK fighters were based along Turkey's border with Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Mr. Bozlak said the PKK rebels continued to constitute what he termed a potential threat to Turkey's security a concern that he says is shared by the Turkish authorities. "Mr. Bozlak says Turkish leaders should muster the courage to grant an amnesty to these fighters and secure their return to Turkey," he said.

Like many Kurdish leaders here, Mr. Bozlak sees a two year long cease-fire called by the PKK (in the wake of the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan in February 1999) as a unique opportunity for Turkey to make peace with its restive Kurdish population.

Mr. Ocalan, who was sentenced to death on treason charges in June 1999, called off his 15 year long insurgency at the time and also demanded clemency for his fighters. Mr. Ocalan told a Turkish court that he had dropped his demands for an independent Kurdish homeland and that some 12 million Turkish Kurds would be willing to settle for cultural autonomy instead.

Turkey has brushed aside calls for a general amnesty for PKK fighters saying clemency will only be extended to those rebels who surrender voluntarily and provide information on their comrades in the mountains.

In what Western diplomats here describe as an encouraging step forward, the Turkish parliament in October passed legislation easing bans on broadcasting and publishing in the Kurdish language. But there are few signs that the constitutional changes are having any effect.

Earlier this month, a private radio station in the largest Kurdish dominated city, Diyarbakir, was banned from the airwaves for playing Kurdish songs.

Nevzat Bingol the owner of the private channel called Metro says none of the songs were political in content. Like many Kurds in the region Mr. Bingol says he sees the closure of his radio station as part of a broader struggle between hawks within the Turkish administration who are opposed to granting the Kurds greater rights and those who back Turkey's membership in the European Union (EU). The EU continues to cite what they consider Turkey's poor human rights record and its denial of broader linguistic rights to the Kurds as one of the main reasons why it has blocked Turkey's membership bid so far.

Murat Bozlak of HADEP sounds a more optimistic note. He says that the atmosphere in the largely Kurdish southeastern provinces has changed dramatically for the better with the PKK cease-fire and that state harassment of his party has subsided as well.

Mr. Bozlak says he hopes that HADEP will be permitted to survive. HADEP is facing a constitutional ban on charges of acting as a political front for the PKK. Mr. Bozlak declines to comment on possible reasons why scores of HADEP members have been detained for questioning in recent weeks during a string of police raids staged across the southeast provinces.