ISTANBUL Turkish intelligence officials have discussed the prospect of Kurdish militants disarming in talks with their jailed leader aimed at ending a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people, a newspaper said on Monday.
Turkey began talks with Abdullah Ocalan in recent months to end a hunger strike by jailed members of his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend those talks were continuing.
Directors of the MIT intelligence agency met Ocalan on December 23 for four hours with the goal of working towards issuing a declaration on ending the conflict in the first months of 2013, the Hurriyet daily reported.
"Getting the group to put down its weapons formed the main item on the agenda in the talks," the paper said, without specifying its sources.
"If the target is achieved the PKK, which has halted operations due to winter conditions, would being to disarm in the spring," the paper said.
Ocalan reportedly said he must be put in direct contact with the PKK and his jail conditions improved. The paper said Ocalan would not hold talks with his lawyers or the main legal pro-Kurdish party until the talks with the state were completed.
The PKK, Turkey's main domestic security threat, took up arms almost three decades ago and seeks Kurdish autonomy. Recordings leaked last year showed senior intelligence officials had also held secret meetings with the PKK in Oslo.
Such talks would have been unthinkable until only a few years ago and more recent contacts have proved politically fraught, with parts of the nationalist opposition strongly condemning any suggestion of negotiations.
The justice minister said in November further talks would be held with the militants after Ocalan issued an appeal ending a 68-day hunger strike by hundreds of PKK militants in prisons across Turkey.
The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union. But Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence, which has included bomb attacks in major cities as well as clashes with the military in the mountainous southeast.
Imprisoned on Imrali island in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul since his capture in 1999, Ocalan has significant support among Kurds but is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the violence.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Pravin Char)