- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ (AP) - The military chief of Kurdish rebels launching attacks into Turkey from hideouts in Iraq said his group will not lay down its arms until there is a political settlement between the Turkish government and the militants, according to an audio tape released Saturday.

Murat Karayilan’s audio recording, sent to Iraqi Kurdish journalists, came less than a week after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called on the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, stop fighting or leave Iraq.

“Our weapons are necessary because we are not dealing with a state that believes in democracy,” Karayilan said in the tape. “We are dealing with a state ruled by military generals. To abandon our arms without a political solution to our issues means suicide.”

Karayilan spoke in response to written questions submitted by the journalists, who are familiar with the Kurdish rebel leader’s voice.

He urged the Turkish government to begin a dialogue with the PKK to resolve Kurdish issues.

“If the Turkish government wants to solve our issue seriously, they should release 4,000 of our leaders who are in the Turkish custody,” he said. “They should be freed as a goodwill gesture, then a cease-fire, sit down for negotiations to spell out our national rights within the Turkish state.”

The Iraqi central government has frequently denounced the PKK as terrorists, but it is limited in its ability to act against the rebels, who are based in semiautonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.

Karayilan is believed to have taken effective control of the PKK since the 1999 arrest of the movement’s charismatic leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK rebels took up arms in 1984 to demand self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey has carried out several cross border airstrikes against rebel targets and has been pressing Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government to step up efforts against the Kurdish rebels from their side.

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