Kurdish rebels announce ceasefire: The Turkish Kurd leader is ready to talk, writes Robert Fisk in Lebanon

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The Independent Online
BAR ELIAS - It was a fitting location for the end, or the possible end, of Abdullah Ocalan's Kurdish rebellion against the Turkish government.

The ceilings of the dingy house were damp, the rooms largely unfurnished, a group of rain-soaked young men in keffiyehs the only guards. Even the red Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) flag, with its Marxist star, had to be fastened to a grubby wall with Sellotape.

When he arrived in a business suit, accompanied by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Mr Ocalan - fierce triangular black eyebrows above a massive and equally black moustache - looked more like a troubled customer seeking a bank loan than a guerrilla magnanimously offering his enemies a ceasefire.

He wanted, of course, to be a generous victor. 'Greek heroes' was how he exaggeratedly described his fighters. But yes, from 20 March to 15 April, his 10,000 guerrillas - minus, presumably, the 1,800 reported killed in the latest Turkish offensive and another 1,500 who have surrendered to Iraqi Kurds - would observe a ceasefire in response to 'Kurdish and Turkish public opinion'.

His PKK would mount no attacks during the celebrations for the Turkish New Year of Nowruz on 21 March - the occasion was marked by 50 killings in Turkish Kurdistan last year - and the moment was now due, so we were informed, for a 'political dialogue' between Turkish Kurds and the Turkish government.

Mr Ocalan even rewarded the 14 Turkish journalists among us with a generous smile, while Mr Talabani - who professed friendship towards Mr Ocalan even though he regards him as slightly deranged - puffed contentedly on a fat cigar beside a bowl of primulas. Who would have thought so savage a war - it provoked the government in Ankara to send 120,000 troops into battle against the PKK - would have been concluded in these bleak surroundings? Mr Ocalan was even forced to deny the inevitable split in his guerrilla army.

The truth, quietly confirmed by the PKK's acolytes in Lebanon, is that Mr Ocalan's army had been so badly mauled by the Turks that it was left with little option but to offer a ceasefire. Anxious to conclude a new water agreement with Turkey, and to get off the US State Department's 'terrorist' list, Mr Ocalan's Syrian allies closed down his camps in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and consented to a mutual exchange of intelligence about the guerrillas with the Turks.

President Hafez al-Assad wants to be friends with the US and needs its help to obtain the return of a mountain called Golan, faintly discernible through the mist from outside Mr Ocalan's villa at Bar Elias yesterday.

Whether Mr Ocalan really intends to keep his word, we may discover in three days' time. But first, the honeyed words. The ceasefire was 'an expression of goodwill' from the PKK, Mr Ocalan told us. 'We do not want to solve problems with violence . . . the Turkish and Kurdish people are expressing their will and desire for an opportunity of peace . . . we are keeping ourselves prepared for the conditions of a possible political solution.' The Turks were not expected to negotiate directly with the PKK, he said.

Then there were the warnings. 'If the Turkish government continues to say 'you Kurds do not exist' or 'you must surrender', then at this point I believe I have to defend myself. There is no life in surrender.'