PKK Militants Have Started Withdrawal From Turkey, Lawmaker Says

Fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have started withdrawing from Turkey under a peace agreement being negotiated between the government and the group’s jailed leader, a senior Kurdish lawmaker said.

The bulk of the militants will have gone by the end of June, Gultan Kisanak, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, said by telephone today. They are withdrawing toward neighboring northern Iraq, taking precautions against possible attack, said Kisanak, citing villagers in rural areas of the country’s largely Kurdish southeast.

“We are relying on assurances from the government that they are not going to be targeted,” Kisanak said. “If Turkish troops do not leave their barracks, the chances of a confrontation are minimal.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged a safe exit for about 2,000 militants who have been operating in the country’s eastern and southeastern regions, as part of an effort to end almost three decades of fighting by militants seeking Kurdish autonomy.

The PKK on April 25 agreed to start a gradual withdrawal in response to calls by its imprisoned chief Abdullah Ocalan, who is engaged in talks with Turkish officials. The fighting has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people since 1984.

The PKK rejected calls by Erdogan to lay down their weapons during the withdrawal.

“The Kurdish problem in essence is a matter of rights and freedoms for Kurdish people,” Kisanak said. “There has been a dimension of war and now the withdrawal will mean silencing guns for a long time. It is time to seize the opportunity to carry out reforms for a lasting peace.”

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