Kurdish Rebel Leader Sees August Withdrawal From Turkey: Media

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February 27, 2013 8:10 PM EST

Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan envisages the withdrawal of his fighters from Turkey by August under a draft peace plan sent to his group's leadership and Kurdish politicians, media reports said on Wednesday.

Held in an island jail since his capture in 1999, Ocalan has been negotiating with Turkey's government since October over the outlines of a deal to end a conflict which has killed 40,000 people since his fighters took up arms in 1984.

Under the plan, to which his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is expected to respond within two weeks, the rebels would begin a formal ceasefire on March 21, the Kurdish New Year, said the Sabah and Star newspapers, which are close to the government.

They said the militants' withdrawal from Turkish territory was planned for completion by August 15, the 29th anniversary of a conflict which has destabilized Turkey and held back development in its mainly Kurdish southeast. The accuracy of the reports could not immediately be confirmed.

This timetable is dependent on Turkey passing reforms increasing the rights of a Kurdish minority numbering about 15 million - around 20 percent of Turkey's population of 76 million.

The newspaper reports said Ocalan's plan proposed maintaining Turkey's unitary structure, with no demand for Kurdish autonomy.

"Nobody should stand up and demand anything which is aimed at harming our national unity," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters late on Tuesday.

"If they put down their weapons and leave our country there are many places in the world they can go," he said.

During his decade in power, Erdogan has pushed through reforms boosting Kurdish cultural rights but Kurdish politicians seek wider political reforms, including a new constitution boosting equality and increased Kurdish language education.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, but subsequently moderated its goal to limited self-rule. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

The militants have pledged allegiance to Ocalan but voiced caution about the prospects of rapid progress towards a deal, criticizing continued military operations in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, where thousands of the militants are based.

Among initial steps proposed under the process, the PKK could release more than a dozen Turkish security forces personnel which it is holding captive.

However, senior PKK commander Duran Kalkan said any such release would depend on what steps Turkey takes. "Nobody should expect this from us unilaterally," Kalkan said in an interview with the PKK-linked Firat news agency.

In talks with Kurdish politicians at the weekend, Ocalan warned Turkey could become as troubled as Syria or Iraq if steps were not taken to end the insurgency.

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