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Kurd rebels set to enter 'historic' ceasefire

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Turkey's armed Kurdish rebellion is poised to enter a historic ceasefire on Thursday, the Kurdish New Year, at the command of a single man only a handful of people have seen since 1999.

After months of meticulous planning with Turkey's intelligence agency, jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has outlined a "historic" call for a ceasefire to be made on Thursday, Kurdish lawmakers told reporters after meeting him on Monday.

Ocalan's text is expected to be delivered by agents to Kurdish lawmakers, who will read it to estimated millions gathering in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir during traditional Newroz, or New Year, celebrations.

Most of Turkey's 75 million people will be tuned in that day to the declaration live from their televisions and radios, some expecting to catch a whiff of contrition in Ocalan's words, others a candid invitation to peace.

The document he penned on his island prison cell travelled through the Qandil mountains, European capitals and Ankara, seeking consultations with fellow Kurds based at each stop to reach a final "peace roadmap".

After response letters got back to Ocalan's Imrali prison compound, the jailed Kurdish leader said it was time to "solve the issue of guns with haste and without a single life being lost", speaking through a visiting Kurdish delegation.

His armed rebellion against Ankara since 1984 has cost 45,000 lives, but until a year ago, the man branded a "terrorist chief" was the least likely peace negotiator for the state.

Late last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the rekindled peace talks public, saying the state sometimes resorted to Ocalan, "a stooge", for mediation with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which he founded in 1978.

But Erdogan's nationalist opposition was swift to slam the talks, with its leader Devlet Bahceli accusing Erdogan of "treason" and "selling out the country to a bunch of bloody bandits".

"If our nation grants us the authority...we will tear Imrali to the ground and burn Qandil down," he told a large audience of party supporters bursting into applause.

Last week, the PKK released the eight Turkish prisoners it had been holding hostage for around two years.

Erdogan, keen on a solution, said he would take the plunge "even if it costs me my political career", rejecting accusations that Ankara was making concessions to Ocalan so he would make his ceasefire call, which would eventually "fizzle".

"We hide nothing from anybody," he said in televised remarks on Tuesday. "We might be talking and explaining too little, but that is because of the sensitivity of the process... Whatever we are doing, we are doing it for the nation."

If the ceasfire call is made, it will be at least the fifth from Ocalan.

Previous versions have been disrupted or sabotaged over a lack of faith between the PKK and its arch enemy, Ankara.

Asked if a new process could be successful, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said "there are no guarantees".

"But we know what is going to happen if it does not," he told reporters.

Ocalan's last call an end to the crisis came in 1999 shortly after his incarceration, but hundreds of PKK members were hunted by the Turkish army before they could cross the border into northern Iraq, where the PKK has a command base.

Each failed attempt ratcheted up the violence, with civilians sometimes the main casualties of PKK ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.

This time, Ocalan is expected to call for several committees to be established to properly monitor the ceasefire and rebel departures to avoid a similar crisis, despite guarantees from Erdogan that no militant would be "touched if they leave the land".

"We are striving to solve this extremely sensitive issue with the precision of a surgeon, without breaking, destroying or hurting anybody," he told his party lawmakers earlier this week.

"This is a basket of eggs we are carrying on our backs," he said.

Kurdish activists and lawmakers expect Thursday's call to go further than a ceasefire and outline a political plan that will set out details of the ceasefire and the ensuing withdrawals, in return for wider constitutional recognition and language rights for Turkey's up to 15 million Kurds.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130320/kurd-rebels-set-enter-historic-ceasefire