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Amnesty Offer Fails to Encourage Kurdish Rebels to Surrender - 2003-09-12

An amnesty for Turkish Kurd rebels enacted by Turkey's parliament in August has largely failed to produce the intended result - the mass surrender of rebels to the police. The amnesty office in this far flung town close to the border with Iraq carries the grand name "the Re-integration with Society Center." Its walls are emblazoned with nationalist slogans. It was opened last month as a model camp, able to accommodate hundreds of Turkish Kurd rebels who, officials hoped, would come in to surrender.

But, so far, it is not doing much business. The main occupants of this converted boarding school are Turkish soldiers and policemen.

Turkish officials in Silopi, who declined to speak on microphone, acknowledge that fewer than 20 rebels have turned themselves in since the amnesty law was enacted by Parliament last month. They offer no explanation of why so few have taken advantage of the amnesty.

But ordinary Kurds, who have relatives among the rebel group known as KADEK, say it is because the law does not go far enough. The act offers pardons to fighters who did not take part directly in KADEK's 15-year armed campaign for an independent Kurdish state. But it does not extend to KADEK leaders, and it requires those Kurds who surrender to become informants against fellow fighters who do not.

Earlier this month, KADEK announced it had called off a truce it had unilaterally declared in 1999, following the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan. The rebels accused the government of failing to reciprocate and continuing attacks against KADEK fighters.

Farther west, in Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeastern Turkey, retired health worker Rifat Ozbek calls the amnesty 'dishonorable.' He has a 33-year-old daughter and a 25-year-old son, who both joined the rebels 10 years ago. Mr. Ozbek says he does not want either of his children to surrender under this law, even though he has not seen them for all these years.

Like many Kurds interviewed across the Kurdish region, Mr. Ozbek says the Turkish government must grant a full pardon for all the rebels, including their imprisoned leader, Mr. Ocalan.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has ruled out extending the amnesty. He said earlier this month his government is not worried about KADEK's decision to call off the truce, saying it was an act of panic.

Turkey has been stepping up pressure on the United States in recent weeks to move against some 5,000 KADEK rebels based in northern Iraq. Turkey has set this as a precondition for sending some 10,000 of its own troops to help U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. The U.S. government, which labels KADEK a terrorist group, has pledged to help disarm and evict the rebels, but it has not said when that will be done.

Chairman Firat Anli, of the Diyarbakir branch of Turkey's largest legal pro-Kurdish party, says any U.S. move against the rebels would not be justified, particularly because the group has never targeted Americans.

Mr. Anli warns that U.S. military action against KADEK would create new enemies for the United States and would further destabilize the already difficult security situation in Iraq.