ANKARA (AFP)–Turkey’s main Kurdish party urged a peaceful solution to the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government Thursday, as Ankara warned of legal sanctions if the party failed to sever its alleged links with the PKK.
The Democratic Society Party convened to elect a new leader amid tight security and against a backdrop of Turkish threats to strike Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, a move the party strongly opposes.
"We should work for reconciliation and social peace within the country instead of directing our energy and resources across the border," said Nurettin Demirtas, who is expected to be elected party chairman.
The DTP, which holds 20 seats in the 550-member parliament, advocates a peaceful settlement to the Kurdish conflict and broader cultural and political rights for the Kurdish community. But its refusal to fall in line with Ankara and brand the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist group and the sympathy its members often voice for the rebels have sparked accusations that the party is a political tool of the PKK.
The party came under fresh attack after three of its lawmakers traveled to northern Iraq Sunday to participate in the release of eight Turkish soldiers captured by the PKK in a deadly ambush last month.
Television footage showed them shaking hands with Kurdish fighters and signing papers on a table adorned by the portrait of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Demirtas said DTP efforts for reconciliation had encountered "an attitude of incredible intolerance and lynching" in Ankara.
Justice minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, saying said, "public opinion believes they [the DTP] have links" with the PKK and issued a veiled warning the party might be banned if it fails to dissociate itself from the rebel group.
"If they insist on serving PKK objectives on a political basis … whatever Turkey’s constitution and legislation require will be done and they will have to bear the consequences," Sahin told Samanyolu television overnight.
The DTP was created in 2005 as a successor to several Kurdish parties outlawed by the courts. Party chairman Ahmet Turk, a moderate and seasoned politician, is expected to be succeeded Thursday by his deputy Demirtas, a little-known figure, who many expect to have a less moderate approach to the Kurdish question.
Kurdish politicians have called for an amnesty for PKK militants to persuade them to lay down arms, but Ankara has dismissed the appeal.
Turkey, under EU pressure, has, in recent years, granted the Kurds a measure of cultural freedoms, but Kurdish activists say the reforms are inadequate. Analysts, however, say the reforms have helped diminish Kurdish militancy.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party posed an unprecedented challenge to the DTP in its stronghold in the mainly Kurdish southeast in the July 22 elections. Erdogan says 75 of his party’s 340 members of parliament are Kurds.
The United States is staunchly opposed to a major Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq, but has promised to help crack down on PKK bases there.
A pro-PKK news agency reported Thursday that fears of an imminent Turkish airstrike on some bases in the wake of an increasing number of fly-over sorties by US surveillance planes.
"It is believed that an airstrike is imminent," said the Firat news agency. "It is reported that the PKK is increasing its countermeasures and will respond strongly in case of an attack."
After talks with Erdogan Monday, US President George W. Bush pledged to provide Ankara with "real-time" intelligence on rebel movemen’s, calling the PKK a common enemy.