Talks may end Kurdish war: Despite the Turkish army's doubts, conditions for peace exist

THE Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani starts meetings with the Turkish leadership today that many hope will consolidate the curious but successful 13-day-old ceasefire in Turkey's Kurdish war.

Kurdish guerrillas are still dying - two were killed on Thursday and 11 on Wednesday - and scores of Kurds are still being arrested. But the Turks call the situation 'calm' and the Kurdish guerrillas say the truce declared on March 20 is still in effect.

Mr Talabani is seen by many as the catalyst of the ceasefire. Today he is to meet the Turkish President, Turgut Ozal, and on Monday he will have talks with the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel. Bearing messages from the Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah 'Apo' Ocalan, his main objective is to extend the truce beyond an initial deadline of 15 April.

The Iraqi Kurdish mediator will find Mr Ozal sympathetic but unable to give much more than psychological support. The man Mr Talabani must convince is the more conservative and suspicious Mr Demirel.

For their part, the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas said yesterday that they were still keen for peace. 'We will continue to obey our decision and our leader Apo to the letter,' a statement said. 'The Turkish state must respond with the same sense of responsibility.'

The Turkish state has indeed been searching for a policy that can bring peace without losing face after a war that has killed nearly 6,000 people since 1984. 'The existing calm is pleasing for us. The state will do whatever possible to extend this calm,' the government spokesman, Akin Gonen, said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss Turkey's options. Mr Gonen did not dismiss the guerrillas' most difficult immediate demand, a general amnesty. He said that there might be adjustments to a three-year-old 'repentance law'. Press reports suggest this will amount to a 'veiled amnesty', while senior officials have also hinted that Turkey may dilute emergency rule in Kurdish provinces and lift bans on Kurdish place-names, family names and Kurdish broadcasting.

This falls short of the guerrillas' demands, which include allowing Mr Ocalan to become a Turkish political leader. But the guerrillas have suffered military reverses, have lost the crucial support of Syria and are under heavy pressure from ordinary Kurds who want to grab this opportunity for a more normal life.

Mr Demirel faces the same pressure. Newspaper columnists are demanding peace and Kurdish rights. Mr Demirel's Social Democrat coalition partners doubt that the problem can be finished off militarily. The US State Department has echoed that view and the British Foreign Office has called on Turkey to formulate a 'constructive response'.

Turkish army officers, however, want to finish off the guerrillas. The army has not yet publicly stated its position, but there have been few changes in the emergency-rule governorate of south-eastern Turkey, where half Turkey's 12 million Kurds live. In each of the governor's daily faxes to the media about the number of guerrillas arrested, wounded or 'captured dead', a line has been added. Operations are carried out to 'neutralise the terrorist organisation'.

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