ANKARA: The Turkish government and jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan have agreed on a roadmap to end a three-decade-old insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, media reported on Wednesday.
The deal was reached during a new round of talks between Ankara and Ocalan and aims to have the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) lay down arms in March, private news network NTV and Radikal newspaper reported.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government recently revealed that Turkish intelligence services had for weeks been talking to Ocalan, who has been held on the island prison of Imrali south of Istanbul since his capture in 1999.
During a visit to Niger on Wednesday, Erdogan warned the government would uphold its tough line on the PKK: “I repeat again, our fight with the terrorist organisation will continue.”
"Terrorist organisation ranks need to lay down weapons and withdraw from Turkey,” before further steps can be discussed, he said.
Under the reported peace roadmap, the government would be expected to reward a ceasefire by granting wider rights to Turkey's Kurdish minority, whose population is estimated at up to 15 million in the 75-million nation, according to unofficial figures.
The rebels also want the release of hundreds of Kurdish activists held in prisons over links to the PKK as well as the recognition of Kurdish identity in Turkey's new constitution, according to media sources.
But Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) warned the talks were not at the stage of fully-fledged ceasefire negotiations, arguing Ocalan would have to be freed first and given a chance to consult the grassroots.
“The conditions between the parties are just not equal,” BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas told fellow lawmakers on Tuesday. “And by that, no, I do not mean Erdogan going into Imrali,” he said.
Officials have not confirmed the roadmap published in the media.
Hopes of a breakthrough on the Kurdish issue were heightened when two Kurdish lawmakers were allowed to visit Ocalan last week for the first time.
But the resumption of Kurdish rebel attacks against Turkish security forces since then have overshadowed the developments.
On Monday, one soldier and 14 rebels were killed in southeastern Hakkari city near the border with Iraq, raising fears that more attacks may come from hawkish rebel wings to disrupt the process.
“The terrorists have always done their best to sabotage any step initiated for peace,” Erdogan said regarding Monday's attack.
Around 45,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting between Turkish security forces and the rebels, who took up arms in 1984 under Ocalan's command, to obtain self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast.
Previous talks floundered after the PKK leadership demanded the release of Ocalan.