PKK leader, Turkey in peace council deal - report

ISTANBUL Fri Jul 8, 2011 5:07pm BST

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A jailed Kurdish militant leader has agreed with Turkish officials to set up a "peace council" aimed at ending a separatist conflict that has lasted 27 years, a news agency close to the rebels reported on Friday.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan said through his lawyers that the "peace council" must be established within the next month, Firat news agency said. It was unclear what form the council might take.

The proposal came a month after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party won a parliamentary election and two months after Ocalan threatened "war" unless the government entered talks about the PKK insurgency.

"The Peace Council will not be an official state organ or just a civil body," Ocalan was quoted as telling his lawyers when he met them on his prison island south of Istanbul on Wednesday.

"The Peace Council will work for a solution and to achieve peace." More than 40,000 people, most of them militants, have been killed in the conflict since the PKK took up arms against the state in 1984.

The intensity of the fighting has eased since Ocalan was captured in 1999 but there are still regular clashes in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

The government has enacted reforms to meet Kurdish minority demands for cultural and political change. Erdogan said in a speech presenting his new government's programme to parliament on Friday that it would maintain the reform process.

"We have enacted historical reforms in a wide area, from lifting emergency rule, to the free use and learning of Kurdish," Erdogan said.

"We will continue these reforms with determination to strengthen our brotherhood," said Erdogan, who revealed earlier this year that the state was holding talks with Ocalan.

KURDISH DEPUTIES

Erdogan's third term in office has been marred by a parliamentary boycott by Kurdish deputies and the main opposition party, who have refused to take their oaths in a protests against bans on their elected candidates.

Thirty-six candidates backed by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) won seats in the election, but election authorities barred one of them from taking office due to a previous conviction for spreading separatist propaganda.

It stands to lose five more seats after courts ruled against releasing five candidates, detained on charges of having ties to the PKK, preventing them from taking their place in parliament.

The PKK ended a 6-month cease-fire in February, moving to what it calls an "active defence" stance, whereby its fighters defend themselves if under attack.

(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Robert Woodward)

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