TUNCELI (Reuters)–Turkish Kurdish rebels in north Iraq will not disarm without an amnesty but promise not to fight Iraqi Kurds the United States is backing as it rebuilds the country–guerrilla leader Osman Ocalan said on Monday.
Ocalan–leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of separatist Turkish Kurds since the jailing of his brother Abdullah–told Reuters he had received no US request to disarm but his forces were ready to work with the United States.
It was unclear how Washington would respond to the PKK rebels as it considers them "terrorists” because of their bloody fight for an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s.
In a written response to questions from Reuters–Ocalan dismissed proposals floated by Turkish authorities of a "repentance law” offering reduced jail sentences to guerrillas who turn themselves in with arms or information.
Turkey must offer the rebels a full amnesty–he declared.
"The path to disarmament is…with an amnesty. We will not hesitate to give up our weapons if we are allowed to participate in political life under an amnesty,” Ocalan wrote in an e-mail.
He set one more condition for a PKK arms handover–that Turkey release his brother and PKK commander Abdullah Ocalan from jail–where he is serving a life sentence for treason.
Fighting between the rebels and Turkish troops–which killed more than 30,000 people–dropped off sharply after Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999 and most of his followers withdrew from Turkey into northern Iraq.
Some 5,000 PKK fighters are in northern Iraq and could complicate US efforts to rebuild the country. The PKK–which is also known as KADEK–has clashed sporadically with Iraqi Kurdish factions in the mountainous north.
"Our desire is for a democratic Iraq and for stability to be realized. Our position will be to make every contribution we can,” Ocalan said when asked whether his forces would cooperate with the United States.
He was quoted earlier on Monday by the Europe-based Mezopotomya News Agency–which is close to the PKK–as saying his followers would no longer fight the US-backed Iraqi Kurds.
"We have brought to an end all of our armed activities and political efforts in northern Iraq,” he said.
Turkey has kept several thousand troops in northern Iraq to crack down if necessary on the Kurdish rebels who retreated there–but is now under pressure from the United States and Iraqi Kurds to withdraw its forces.