DIYARBAKIR Two Kurdish lawmakers made a rare visit to Abdullah Ocalan at his island prison on Thursday, signalling that Turkey is negotiating with the influential militant leader over ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands over three decades.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Ayla Akat Ata and prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk went with a lawyer to Imrali, where Ocalan has been held in virtual isolation since his capture in 1999, a Kurdish lawmaker said.
The meeting came days after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser said the government was discussing disarmament with the militants.
Ocalan's continued influence was highlighted in November when his order, made after a visit from his brother, to end a 68-day hunger strike by hundreds of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in prisons across Turkey was immediately obeyed.
The justice minister said then that there would be more talks with the PKK and Erdogan's chief adviser, Yalcin Akdogan, said on Monday that Ankara saw Ocalan as its main interlocutor.
The lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give details of what was discussed with Ocalan on Thursday.
Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unpalatable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago.
Ocalan, who founded the organisation in 1974 to fight for an independent Kurdish state, is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984.
But Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence, which has included bomb attacks in major cities as well as fighting in the mountainous southeast, particularly with presidential elections next year in which he is expected to stand.
Ocalan was initially the only prisoner in the Marmara Sea prison and even his lawyers struggled to gain access to him.
Erdogan's government has widened cultural and language rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people, since taking power 10 years ago. But Kurdish politicians want more reforms including steps towards autonomy.
Fighting has continued despite the recent moves.
On Monday, Turkish troops killed at least 10 PKK fighters and seized weapons in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Another 46 PKK rebels were killed in December in a cross-border military operation into northern Iraq, Turkish media said.
(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Louise Ireland)