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Turkey, Kurdish Leaders Call for Conference

FILE - Pro-Kurdish politicians Sirri Sureyya Onder (R), Pelvin Buldan (L) and Altan Tan (C), are surrounded by media members before leaving for Imrali island in Istanbul, Feb. 23, 2013.

The imprisoned leader of the Kurdish rebel group the PKK has called on it to attend a conference on disarmament in Turkey. The announcement was made in a joint statement by government ministers and pro-Kurdish deputies. Disarmament has become a major stumbling block in efforts to end a decades long insurgency.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party says Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish rebel group PKK, is urging his supporters to attend a conference in Turkey on disarmament. The announcement was made after talks with the government. Pro-Kurdish deputy Sirri Sureyya​, reading the statement, described the decision as a key moment in peace efforts.

"This is a historic declaration of will to replace armed struggle with democratic politics," he said.

Disarmament has become a stumbling block to efforts to end a four-decade-long insurgency that has claimed more than 40,000 lives. The PKK is fighting for greater rights for minority Kurds in Turkey.

The government is insisting that disarmament should start before announcing any reforms. But the PKK and Kurdish leaders are demanding the government should make a move first.

Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan described the PKK leader’s move as significant.

"We have reached an important point in the settlement process. Silencing arms would contribute in democratic development," he said.

No date has been given for the disarmament conference, other than it being held in spring. Saturday’s announcement is likely to give some impetus to the peace process. That, observers say, is important with a general election due in June and both the ruling AK Party and pro-Kurdish BDP hoping to see political dividends from the peace efforts.

But major obstacles remain. The government is continuing to push through a controversial security bill that pro-Kurdish groups have condemned and say could destroy the peace process. PKK leaders based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan also have questioned the sincerity of the government.

Disarmament is also being complicated by the war against Islamic state. PKK rebels fighting with Syrian affiliated groups remain in the forefront of fighting the Jihadists.

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