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Jailed Kurdish leader confirms Turkey ceasefire call for Thursday

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has confirmed he will call for a "historic" ceasefire on Thursday, the start of the Kurdish New Year, a lawmaker said after meeting the jailed PKK chief.

"I continue with my preparations to make a (ceasefire) call on March 21, during the Newroz celebrations. The declaration I am going to make will be historic," Ocalan wrote in a letter read to reporters by lawmaker Selahattin Demirtas on Monday.

The text outlined the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader's plans for a possible end to the nearly three-decade-long conflict between the outlawed group and Turkish security forces that has cost 45,000 lives, mostly Kurdish.

Turkey's secret services resumed negotiations with Ocalan late last year with the ultimate aim of ending the fight for autonomy by the PKK, which is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Demirtas was in a Kurdish delegation that visited Ocalan on the prison island of Imrali on Monday, the third such visit since peace talks between the state and PKK leader resumed.

"I want to solve the issue of guns with haste and without a single life being lost," Ocalan said in the letter.

He also called on the Turkish parliament to do "its part" to make the peace process a permanent one, enabling thousands of Kurdish rebels to lay down arms and leave Turkey in the coming months.

"The existing process is moving on the right track. Our goal is for the democratisation of all of Turkey," he said.

Both sides in the conflict have set out conditions they say would signal good faith and commitment to long-lasting peace.

The Kurdish movement has asked for the release of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Kurdish activists and politicians detained on charges of links to the PKK.

Ankara in return insists "terrorists" need to withdraw from Turkish territory before the peace process can effectively begin, and has promised not to attack rebels wishing to leave the country.

Ocalan, 64, is currently serving a life sentence on an isolated island prison off Istanbul where visitors are rarely allowed and only under the surveillance of Turkish agents.

Observers caution that his influence over the movement might have waned during his years in prison, although he still enjoys strong support from Turkey's Kurds, who make up roughly 20 percent of the country's 75-million population.

The Turkish parliament is working on a legal package that will bring its often criticised anti-terrorism laws more in line with European standards and contribute to the peace process by paving the way for the release of many Kurds currently behind bars.

A previous round of peace talks held in Oslo between the PKK and Turkey's secret services collapsed in 2011 after the two sides failed to reach an agreement, escalating the violence.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130318/jailed-kurdish-leader-confirms-turkey-ceasefire-call-thursday