Kurds declare all-out war on Turks: End of peace process as PKK threatens 'most ferocious campaign' in nine-year battle

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The Independent Online
ANY hopes of resurrecting the battered ceasefire in Turkey's Kurdish insurgency were blown away yesterday when the rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan declared new all-out war against the Turkish government.

Speaking from exile in Lebanon, Mr Ocalan donned his old military fatigues to warn of a bloody summer in which 'thousands, tens of thousands will suffer. This campaign will be the most ferocious of all our campaigns'.

It was a bitter ending for a tentative peace process started in the same Bekaa Valley village of Bar Elias in March, when the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) put on a civilian suit to announce a unilateral ceasefire.

The Turkish Interior Minister, Ismet Sezgin, said the PKK could have proved it was sincere only by laying down arms and surrendering unconditionally.

Mr Ocalan was probably over-optimistic, since his PKK is viewed in Turkey in a way similar to that in which the IRA is viewed in Britain. But Turkey's suspicious army generals gave the ceasefire little chance to end nearly nine years of insurgency that have claimed the lives of more than 6,100 people.

Turkish politicians, while not rejecting the opportunity, dragged their feet in responding to Mr Ocalan's demands for a federal Kurdish state and Kurdish cultural rights. The government finally published a limited guerrilla amnesty yesterday, but the ceasefire's death-knell had already sounded two weeks ago when Kurdish guerrillas massacred more than 30 unarmed soldiers in revenge for the killing of a dozen of their number a few days before.

More than 300 people have been killed in the last two weeks alone as Turkey returned to daily reports of murders, massacres, ambushes and house raids.

The Turkish armed forces believe they have the upper hand on the ground, outnumbering Mr Ocalan's estimated 10,000 guerrillas by at least 10 to one. The rebels can also no longer base themselves near the Turkish border in northern Iraq. Ankara enjoys the support of Iraqi Kurdish leaders who depend on Turkey for supplies and for the rights to bases used by the Western warplanes that protect their safe haven.

Mr Ocalan, for his part, believes he can count on the absolute support of Turkey's 12 million Kurds. Yesterday he also threatened to attack economic and above all tourist targets - tourism is a vital source of foreign income for Turkey.

Mr Ocalan seems to be in the weaker position. Any attack on tourism targets risks a reaction against the rebels from tolerant European countries. And his recent popularity among a people desperate for an honourable peace was due mainly to his announcement of the ceasefire. The half of Turkey's Kurds who live in Western cities are largely assimilated and have little interest in a federal or independent Kurdish state.

As important for the future, perhaps, is a trial of strength between Ankara and Mr Ocalan for the support of Iran and Syria. Both Turkey's neighbours covertly tolerate or support Mr Ocalan as a weapon against Turkey's growing regional influence and, in Syria's case, its increasing use of dams on vital rivers such as the Tigris and Euphrates.

On the other hand, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, met his Iranian and Syrian counterparts in Tehran this week to try to persuade them that Turkey's support for the territorial integrity of Iraq was not compromised by close ties with the Kurds of northern Iraq, a region where in the past it had strong claims to territorial sovereignty.

Turkish troops regularly enter northern Iraq in pursuit of their Kurdish rebels. And after Baghdad cancelled the main category of banknotes circulating in northern Iraq last month, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said it was 'normal' that people there should use the Turkish lira instead.