Kurdish militant leader urges congress on peace with Turkey

Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on Saturday called for Kurds to hold a historic congress to end a decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish authorities that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In an eagerly-anticipated message for the traditional Kurdish New Year, Ocalan however stopped short of setting out a clear road map for disarmament of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels as had been anticipated in some quarters.

A congress should be organised to bring an end to the 40-year struggle against the Turkish Republic.

Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan

In the message read out by a pro-Kurdish lawmaker to hundreds of thousands of supporters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Ocalan said that the armed struggle had been “painful” and could no longer be maintained. Ocalan is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara following his sensational arrest by Turkish agents in Kenya in 1999. He said the congress - which would likely involve all the Kurdish political forces in Turkey - would decide “a social and political strategy which will determine our history”. Ocalan said that the congress - whose timing was not made clear - would usher in a “new era” in relations between Turkey and the Kurds. The Turkish government welcomed the message, with Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc describing the statement as “positive in every way”.