- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 14, 2009

ANKARA, Turkey | Turkey’s government Friday announced new measures aimed at reconciling with minority Kurds and ending a 25-year-old insurgency, but there was no mention of the sweeping amnesty sought by Kurdish rebels.

The government wants to remove all restrictions on the once-banned Kurdish language, create a committee to fight discrimination, restore Kurdish names of villages and establish an independent body to deal with complaints against security forces, Interior Minister Besir Atalay told the parliament.

“It is an open-ended, dynamic process,” Mr. Atalay said.

Turkey is under pressure to resolve the Kurdish conflict as it courts membership in the European Union. Turkey’s civilian and military leaders have both acknowledged, however, that force alone cannot wipe out the rebels, who began fighting for autonomy in 1984 and have staged cross-border attacks from bases in northern Iraq.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, with human rights abuses committed by both sides.

Though fighting has ebbed in recent months, the Turkish government still must persuade a skeptical public that making peace with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is both possible and necessary for long-term stability.

Opponents say reconciliation would ignore the sacrifices of slain soldiers and undermine state unity. They also accuse the government of negotiating with rebels deemed terrorists by Turkey, the EU and the United States.

“Have the mountains been bombed? They have,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to lawmakers. “Have there been cross-border operations? Yes, there have. Is terrorism continuing? Yes, it is. It is not possible to solve the problem through the security forces alone.”

The rebels are asking for amnesty for their leaders and fighters. Rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan, a hated figure among many Turks, is serving a life sentence in jail. Persuading thousands of fighters to lay down their arms is likely to be a long and difficult process.

The government made no mention of an amnesty, however, in announcing its new peace plan, which would require legislative approval. Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party has a strong parliamentary majority.

The measures would allow Kurdish politicians to speak their language while campaigning, reversing a policy that exposed pro-Kurdish politicians to prosecution if they spoke Kurdish in public settings.

The interior minister underlined Mr. Erdogan’s message, saying “We aim to expand all our citizens’ political rights and freedoms. The democratic overture does not intend to harm our unitary state and national unity, but to strengthen it.”

Opposition lawmakers, who had disrupted Mr. Atalay’s speech on the Kurdish issue earlier this week, listened to the minister this time in silence. However, they heckled the prime minister, and some walked out during his speech.

Kurds make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s more than 70 million people and dominate the country’s poor southeast region.

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