Kurdish rebels agree to ceasefire after Turkey offers peace talks

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, said from Brussels that it was ordering its forces to hold fire from 20 August - a dramatic step after a string of bombings at Aegean resorts were claimed by militants, and ambushes of Turkish troops in the south-east.

But the rebels added that they would defend themselves if attacked by Turkish forces. "The decision of a one-month ceasefire stands," said Remzi Kartal, a member of the executive committee of PKK's political wing. "But we will switch from an active defence to a passive one."

Mr Kartal also said his group planned "to seek indirect contacts with Ankara to have a dialogue with the Turkish government" to resolve the Kurdish dispute.

The announcement comes a day after the country's new pro-Kurdish political movement, Democratic Society Movement, urged the rebel group to declare a ceasefire, saying recent conciliatory remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had raised hopes for an improvement in the battered region.

Some Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals also recently have called on the rebels to stop their attacks.

Turkey, which hopes to open membership negotiations with the EU on 3 October, is under pressure to seek a political solution to the conflict, which has claimed the lives of 37,000 people and has battered the country's south-east since the rebels took up arms for autonomy in 1984.

Turkey also is required to improve its treatment of Kurds, grant more cultural rights and allow freedom of expression.

During a recent visit to Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-dominated south-east, Mr Erdogan said his government had made mistakes in the region. He promised to bring investment in education, housing and health care to the area and to improve unemployment that, in some cities, stands at more than 50 per cent.

Mr Kartal said his group's offer of a ceasefire was a response to Mr Erdogan's remarks ­ and calls by Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals for a halt to violence. He said he hoped for a "peaceful and democratic solution.

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