Turks vow to pursue 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.

The rebels have announced that they will lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkey by 1 September.

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

Ironically, Turkey may have won the war with the PKK only to have the cup dashed from its lips. Pressure is building on Ankara from the US and others to recognise the rights of its Kurdish minority. 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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