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Turkish Parliament Approves Amnesty for Kurdish Rebels - 2003-07-29

Turkey's parliament has approved an amnesty bill for thousands of separatist Kurdish rebels in a bid to encourage them to surrender.

Three hundred 56 members of parliament approved the bill, with only 71 voting against it. Interior minister Abdul Kadir Aksu called the vote an historic step forward in restoring social peace in Turkey. The amnesty is the seventh such bill to have been passed since 1985.

Provisions in the latest bill include reducing sentences for rebels involved in a 15-year-long rebellion led by the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. But top rebel leaders will not be pardoned under the bill.

PKK commanders based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, where the bulk of the rebels are stationed, have rejected the amnesty offer. They are especially critical of a provision that calls on those who surrender to provide information on the identities and whereabouts of fellow fighters who have not surrendered.

More than 30,000 people died in the PKK's war against the Turkish army, which ended when the rebels declared a ceasefire in September 1999. They did so in response to orders from their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured by Turkish special forces in Kenya the same year.

The ceasefire has been largely holding despite sporadic clashes in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeastern provinces.

Turkish officials say that some 2,500 Turkish troops who have been dispatched to northern Iraq to hunt down the Kurdish rebels will withdraw to Turkey once all PKK fighters surrender. The United States has pledged to move militarily against the PKK, which it calls a terrorist group, if the rebels do not move out of northern Iraq once the amnesty comes into force.