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Kurd Rebels Extend Ceasefire in Turkey


The Kurdish rebel group in Turkey has announced it is extending its ceasefire. The PKK has been fighting for greater rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority for more than 25 years. Now Turkey's main legal Kurdish party is stepping up its rights campaign.

The Kurdistan Workers Party announced through a Kurdish news web site that it is extending a ceasefire by one week to observe political developments.

The announcement follows the successful boycott of a referendum on constitutional reform called earlier this month by Turkey's main legal pro-Kurdish party, the Peace and Democracy Party.

Political columnist Soli Ozel of the Turkish daily Haberturk says the message sent by Kurds in the vote was behind the PKK rebels' ceasefire decision.

"It gave two messages simultaneously, one that they will do whatever the PKK and BDP tell them to do, but also they are sick and tired of the violence. That there should be a way of actually getting rid of violence and resolve this matter politically, and I think the PKK is in a sense heeding that call as well," said Ozel.

In August, the PKK said it called its ceasefire out of respect for Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The ceasefire followed a major increase in fighting in the past few months, which killed more than 100 Turkish solders. That escalation prompted fears the country was sliding back into full-scale conflict. The rebels are fighting for greater Kurdish cultural and education rights, and local autonomy.

Political scientist Nuray Mert said that until the referendum, Turkey's government had dismissed the Peace and Democracy Party as politically irrelevant and a supporter of terrorism. "The government is constantly identifying them as marginal, and only have limited power in the region, and they are using force and violence to achieve this power. Otherwise people in the region are ready to support the government," said Mert.

But columnist Ozel said with the vast majority of Turkey's Kurds heeding the party's referendum boycott, a powerful message was sent to the government

"Yes, if you are interested in resolving this matter peacefully, you have got to basically speak with these guys, and take them as interlocutor," said Ozel.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to take that message on board, agreeing to meet with leading members of the Peace and Democracy Party. The killing of 12 Kurds by a land mine last week ended plans for a meeting. Mr. Erdogan blamed the PKK and accused the Peace and Democracy Party of being tactically responsible for the attack.

But pressure is growing on the prime minister. Nearly 200 writers, academics and civil organization activists said the government and opposition should meet with the Peace and Democracy Party to find a solution to the Kurdish issue.

This week the Kurdish party launched a week-long boycott of schools, as part of its campaign for Kurdish to be used in education. Ozel said the campaign is part of a new process in the Kurdish struggle.

"Violence is basically gaga now, and whether that civil disobedience is going to serve the Kurds is a different matter. But these are much more sophisticated ways of basically showing power than just basically killing, either soldiers or innocent people," said Ozel.

The campaign to boycott schools has been condemned by the government, which also has warned participating parents they will face sanctions. Arrests of Peace and Democracy Party officials and supporters under Turkey's anti-terror laws also is continuing. It has been reported that more than 500 people have been detained in the past month.


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