Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish PKK rebel group denied Thursday reports that its militants would withdraw from positions in the country as part of a planned truce, saying they were false and part of a “deliberate psychological war”.
Pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan would declare a truce “within 10 days”, followed by the withdrawal of the rebels from positions on Turkish soil by March 21.
It followed a similar report in the mass-circulation Hurriyet on Tuesday that PKK rebels would declare a ceasefire and begin withdrawing to bases in northern Iraq in the spring under a timetable agreed between Ocalan and Turkey’s intelligence agency.
But the PKK dismissed the reports, saying they were part of “a deliberate psychological war aimed at manipulating” public opinion, according to a statement carried by the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency.
“The reports on this subject are manufactured lies,” the PKK said.
The Turkish government has not confirmed the reports.
The PKK, which took up arms for autonomy in the Kurdish majority southeast in 1984, is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.
The Turkish government has acknowledged that its secret services resumed peace talks with Ocalan late last year, aiming to disarm the rebels who use their bases in Iraq as a springboard to launch attacks on government security forces in the southeast.
Ocalan, who was captured in Nairobi in 1999, is serving a life sentence in an island prison in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul.
In December, a government aide said Ocalan remains “the main actor” in efforts to resolve the three-decade-old Kurdish conflict, which has claimed 45,000 lives, mostly Kurdish.
On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country has spent $400 billion (295 billion euros) over the last three decades in its struggle against the insurgency.
“Had there been no terror trouble today, there would have been a much different Turkey,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.
Last year saw intensive fighting between Turkey’s security forces and Kurdish rebels in the southeast as Erdogan insisted that military operations would continue to root out the armed wings of the rebel group.
“We’ll not make a single concession on our fight against terrorism,” he said. “But there will also be no concession on democratisation, investments and laws.”
The government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is under pressure to bring an end to the violence and Erdogan wants a settlement to the conflict before his ambitions to run for presidency next year.
Last week, Erdogan said his government was determined to settle the Kurdish conflict and would guarantee safe passage for rebels wishing to leave Turkey.
“If you are sincere and honest, you lay down your arms,” Erdogan said, referring to the PKK.
“If you don’t want to live in this country, you are free to go to any country you like. We assure you that… we’ll do our best not to let what happened at our borders before happen again,” he said.
There have been clashes in the past between Turkish security forces and the PKK as rebels were leaving the country for northern Iraq.
Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran all have Kurdish minorities in regions straddling their common borders.