Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday hailed the planned withdrawal of Kurdish rebel fighters from Turkey as the end of a "dark era" but warned against potential sabotage of a historic peace process.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish southeast, on Thursday ordered its fighters in Turkey to begin withdrawing to its main base in the mountains of northern Iraq under a carefully choreographed peace plan.
withdrawal, due to begin on May 8, follows months of negotiations
between Turkish intelligence officers and Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's
jailed leader, to try to end hostilities after the bloodiest fighting in
a decade erupted in June 2011. More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds,
have died in the conflict since 1984.
"The door is closing on a dark era. Turkey is changing its ill fortune and is entering a new phase," Erdogan told a business group in comments broadcast live by state television, his first since the withdrawal was announced.
2,000 PKK rebels are set to retreat in small groups in a process that
will take months and is to be monitored by Turkish intelligence on one
side and the Kurdish regional government in Iraq on the other.
withdrawal is a significant advance in a process offering the best
chance in more than a decade of ending a conflict that has blotted
Turkey's human rights record and stunted economic growth. Erdogan's
government is now expected to tackle some of the political reforms
sought by Kurds, including constitutional changes on citizenship,
changes to anti-terrorism laws and broader Kurdish cultural and
nationalists have slammed the jailhouse negotiations with Ocalan, who
is serving a life sentence for treason, arguing that it means surrender
to the demands of "terrorists". Others have asked what the government has promised Ocalan in return for a PKK withdrawal.