ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Turkey on Friday announced an amnesty law for Kurdish guerrillas in the hope of ending a lingering conflict in its southeast and bolstering its chances of starting membership talks with the European Union in 2004.
More than 30,000 people–mostly Kurds–have died in fighting since 1984 and Turkey feels it has the rebels isolated in a few small pockets in Turkey and northern Iraq and wants to draw the organization’s rank and file to return to Turkish society.
"The small group excluded from the extent of the law is the chairmanship–the leadership…and those of the very highest ran’s,” Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu told reporters.
He said the draft law would be submitted to parliament early next week for approval.
EU membership candidate Turkey has offered a series of limited amnesties to rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party and its successor KADEK with only limited success.
Brussels has often criticized Ankara for its heavy-handed approach to its large Kurdish minority–including allegations of the torture of suspected militants and strict curbs on freedom of thought and expression.
Aksu said the new law was wider in scope than its predecessors–which often depended on surrendering militants bringing in intelligence or proving they had never attacked Turkish targets.
He said surrendering KADEK members who had committed no crime other than membership of the organization would be allowed to return directly to their families.
"Our youngsters in that position will not be punished,” he said.
Others who surrendered could expect reduced sentences for any crimes. Those who would normally face the death penalty would receive nine years in jail.
Captured rebels who asked to be included in the new law would also have reduced sentences.
The move will not satisfy many Kurdish and human rights activists who say only a comprehensive amnesty will do.
Turkey’s armed forces said this week that KADEK had been "pacified” and–while fighting still breaks out–conflict has dropped off sharply since Turkey’s 1999 capture of rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Security officials said troops had killed one KADEK guerrilla in fighting in the province of Tunceli on Friday.
Forces have been sweeping the mountainous province for weeks–seeking a KADEK force believed to have infiltrated Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.