Release Of Turks Could Speed Cease-Fire With PKK

A fragile peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK, the militant Kurdistan Worker's Party, got a boost with the release of several Turks who had been captured by PKK fighters and held in northern Iraq. It's the latest sign of goodwill in a rapprochement effort that many in Turkey hope will lead to a PKK cease-fire, and a halt to Turkish military operations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go next to Turkey, where the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, has released several captives. That development has given new hope to efforts to negotiate an end to Turkey's nearly three-decade battle against the PKK.

Now attention turns to hopes for a ceasefire and a new push to recognize Kurdish rights in Turkey, as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The release of six Turkish soldiers, a policeman and a civil servant from PKK camps in northern Iraq is seen as a tiny step forward in a long and difficult peace process. But it did shine a brief light on the dismaying complexities of this fight.

The mother of one of the released kidnap victims, Fatma Cecan, told Al-Jazeera's English Channel through an interpreter that with sons fighting on both sides of the conflict, she can only win if the weapons are finally laid down.

FATMA CECAN: (Through translator) One of my sons serves in the army. My other son is with the rebels. I'm unable to sleep. I have no tears left to shed. It's only if peace is attained that we would all be at ease.

KENYON: It's a sentiment more and more Kurds seem willing to express, now that jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has thrown his support behind peace talks. It began with secret talks between Ocalan and Turkish intelligence in October, but is now out in the open, with pro-Kurdish lawmakers visiting Ocalan at his island prison in the Marmara Sea.

Kurdish politician Gulten Kisanak says if Turkish authorities do their part, Ocalan may be able to make a major announcement around the time of Nowruz, a major Kurdish holiday that begins on March 21st.

GULTEN KISANAK: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: If this process continues as we expect, she says, then Mr. Ocalan may be able to call for a ceasefire. It will be the biggest Nowruz ever, she adds, with the message that we want peace.

But Kurdish politicians warn that a ceasefire can never hold unless Turkish authorities are ready to make concessions in turn, such as releasing large numbers of Kurdish activists and politicians and reforming the criminal laws and judicial practices that have seen large numbers of Kurds detained on charges that critics call overreaching.

At that point, the peace process will enter a high-risk phase, where decades of mistrust will threaten to stall this process, as it has past ones.

Columnist Asli Aydintasbas, with the Turkish Milliyet newspaper, says you don't have to look to hard-line PKK commanders or to Turkish ultra-nationalists to find skepticism. Don't forget, she says, that for decades, ordinary Turks have been regaled with tales of Kurdish terrorism, especially regarding Abdullah Ocalan.

ASLI AYDINTASBAS: This is, like, 30 years of indoctrination. It's very difficult for people to undo it overnight. Up until yesterday, Ocalan has been called a baby-killer. So, all of a sudden, you're negotiating with a baby-killer, and it's difficult for the man or the woman on the street to digest that.

KENYON: Analysts also point out that after more than a decade in jail, the charismatic leader may still hold popular sway, but has necessarily lost some of his authority on the ground. Aydintasbas says this raises the question for Turks: Will a deal struck with Ocalan hold with Kurds in northern Iraq or Europe?

AYDINTASBAS: Ocalan is quite desperate to get out of jail - this is his get-out-of-jail card, literally. And he's also quite willing to compromise on some of the principles he himself has been defending or a long time, like autonomy. Which is all fine, but are the commanders up in the mountains, are they all going to accept that?

KENYON: That is just one of several crucial questions hanging over this peace effort. But officials on both sides agree that if steps aren't taken to solidify and formalize this process quickly, the talks may never reach the stage where such uncertainties will have to be faced.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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