Kurdish rebels are unlikely to complete their announced withdrawal from Turkey into their safe haven in northern Iraq until autumn, the insurgents’ top commander said in an interview on Saturday.
Murat Karayilan also called on Turkish authorities to let a delegation from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) visit their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan so that he could help convince rebels to participate in the withdrawal.
Kurdish rebels announced on Thursday that they would begin withdrawing on May 8, amid a new peace drive between Ankara and Ocalan.
But Karayilan, the PKK’s military chief, said on Saturday the pullback was likely to last into autumn, despite Ocalan’s wish that it be completed by end of summer.
“Based on information that I have, the withdrawal will not be completed until around autumn,” he told the Radikal daily in an interview from his headquarters in northern Iraq.
He also called on Turkish authorities to allow a PKK delegation to visit Ocalan at the Imrali prison on the island in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul where he has been serving a life sentence since his capture in Nairobi in 1999.
“To really convince my comrades and to smooth the difficulties, it would be much more efficient if he could talk directly to a group of our comrades,” he said.
Communication between Ocalan and his followers is currently carried out via letters, transferred between the two sides by lawmakers of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, started an armed rebellion for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, which has cost around 45,000 lives, most of them Kurdish.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who spearheaded the latest bid to forge peace with Kurdish rebels, meanwhile said that the fighters’ withdrawal would not only mark “the end of terrorism”.
“For Turkey, the gates are closing on a dark era,” he told a conference of Muslim businessmen.
He said his government would remain vigilant and would take precautions against “sabotage and provocations”.