ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on Wednesday cagily acknowledged Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan’s call for his rebels to lay down their weapons–but rejected any talks with the condemned man.
In a statement read out by his lawyers on Tuesday–Ocalan said: "I call upon the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) to end the armed struggle and withdraw their forces outside the borders of Turkey–for the sake of peace–from September 1–1999."
The statement coincided with clashes between PKK rebels and Turkish forces in which 11 guerrillas died.
Doubts persist over how much power Ocalan wields from jail over the armed movement for Kurdish self-rule he founded in 1978. At his trial in June–at which he was sentenced to death–he offered to use his influence to help negotiate a peaceful settlement.
Ecevit said it was out of the question to hold talks with a man Turkey classes as a "terrorist."
"To end separatist terrorism everyone who cares for Turkey must contribute. But the Turkish state will never negotiate with anyone or any organization (on the Kurdish issue)," Ecevit told reporters–adding that the call would test Ocalan’s control of the PKK.
"We do not know how much will be achieved. Time will tell."
Ecevit pointed out that Ocalan’s call came after nearly 15 years of fighting for Kurdish self-rule.
"It is understood that Abdullah Ocalan came to this realization only after he had been brought to Turkey–arrested and sentenced," he said.
As Ocalan’s lawyers released the statement in the western city of Istanbul–fighting continued in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
Authorities in the region said troops killed 11 PKK members on Tuesday and early Wednesday.
Four rebels were killed in Van province and three in Mus. Clashes also took place in Tunceli–Bitlis and Mardin provinces. There was no mention of any losses among government forces.
Ocalan’s call will take time to filter through to Kurds in remote mountains and valleys–and even then may not be heeded.
Turkish papers were suspicious of the power Ocalan–widely known as "Apo," retained over the guerrillas.
"A call from Apo to the PKK: lay down arms," was the banner headline across the front pages of two of Turkey’s biggest-selling and competing newspapers–Hurriyet and Sabah.
Hurriyet printed a picture of a senior PKK commander and a group of rebels holding guns on a rocky mountainside.
"Let’s see if they will comply," it said.
Hurriyet editor Ertugrul Ozkok predicted a split in the group over whether to follow Ocalan’s appeal.
"Can Ocalan enforce his call? My opinion is that at least a part of the PKK will not comply with it," Ozkok said.
Ocalan was sentenced to death by a Turkish court in June for founding the PKK and spearheading its armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule–launched in 1984.
During his trial–Ocalan’s offer to use his influence over the PKK to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict was matched by a warning thousands would die in violence if he were hanged.
The PKK backed Ocalan’s courtroom peace overtures–although the stance then was said to have sparked debate within the PKK over whether to challenge their leader’s position.
The verdict is now before the court of appeals and if it is upheld–parliament must vote on whether to endorse it.