Turkey vows to hunt down disarmed PKK rebels

THEY MAY be about to lay down their arms and end 15 years of bloodshed, but Turkey's Kurdish rebels insist their struggle is far from over.

Even as Turkey made clear it would give the retreating guerrillas no quarter, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) announced plans yesterday to follow in the footsteps of the PLO and the IRA, and recast itself as a political organisation.

"Political struggle is seen as necessary to make way for a democratic development," Osman Ocalan told a Pro- Kurdish newspaper in Turkey. "An armed struggle is not seen as vital any more."

Mr Ocalan is a leading member of the PKK and the brother of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is under sentence of death on a Turkish prison island. The PKK echoed Osman Ocalan in an official statement, announcing it would hold a congress to decide the details of its political identity.

"The force which gains weight and persistence is political struggle," said the statement. "Even some forces which resist this process ... will have to be part of it soon."

That is a clear reference to the Turkish authorities, which contemptuously dismissed Abdullah Ocalan's offer from the dock to negotiate peace if his life was spared. Since the rebels announced their new-found commitment to peace last week, Ankara has given no sign that it is any more inclined to negotiate with an enemy it says is on the brink of defeat.

The rebels may have announced that they will lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkey by 1 September, but Ankara has no intention of being so conciliatory.

"Putting down their arms and moving abroad will not save the PKK," Husnu Yusuf Gokalp, a hardline nationalist minister, said on Sunday. "We will grab them by the ear and bring them back."

The guerrillas' most likely destination is the wild mountains of northern Iraq, a Kurdish enclave outside the control of Baghdad. The PKK has several established bases there and yesterday announced it would end its hostilities against the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has allied itself to Turkey in an effort to rid its territory of the PKK.

Ironically, Turkey may have won the war with the PKK only to have the cup dashed from its lips. Unprecedented pressure is building on Ankara to recognise the rights of its Kurdish minority, including representations from its staunchest ally, the United States.

If the PKK can fulfil its promise to end the violence, it may have dealt Turkish policy a far more effective blow than any of its bombs.

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