By MUCAHIT CEYLAN and SUZAN FRASER
FILE -In this July 24, 2012 file photo, honour guard soldiers carry the flag-covered coffin of Ahmet Caglar, one of four soldiers killed in fighting Kurdish rebels at Turkey-Iraq border, during his funeral in Ankara, Turkey. Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said Monday, March 18, 2013 that peace talks with Turkey are making “positive progress” and that he plans to make a “historic” announcement to coincide with a Kurdish spring festival.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan called Thursday for an immediate cease-fire and for thousands of his fighters to withdraw from Turkish territory, a major step toward ending one of the world’s bloodiest insurgencies.
In a message read by pro-Kurdish legislators in the Kurdish and Turkish languages, Ocalan said: “we have reached the point where the guns must be silenced and where ideas must speak. A new era has started, where it is politics, not guns, which is at the forefront.”
“We have reached the stage where our armed elements need to retreat beyond the border,” Ocalan’s message continued.
Turkey has embarked on talks with Ocalan to end the nearly 30-year conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives. His group has been fighting for self-rule for Kurds in southeastern Turkey.
The message was read to hundreds of thousands of people who had gathered for a spring festival celebration in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. People cheered as the announcement was made.
Turkey announced in December that it was talking to Ocalan with the aim of persuading his Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to disarm. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.
Kurdish rebels have declared cease-fires in the past but these were ignored by the state, which vowed to fight the PKK until the end. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has also admitted to having held failed, secret talks with the PKK in past years, but this latest attempt — being held more publicly and with Ocalan’s greater participation — has raised hopes for a successful negotiated settlement.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.