ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said Monday that talks with Turkey aimed at ending a bitter three-decade-old conflict are making "positive progress" but suggested Turkey's parliament needs to take steps to advance the process.
Turkey's government has said it is talking to Ocalan with the aim of persuading the group that is fighting for self-rule for Kurds in southeast Turkey, to disarm and end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
The peace efforts reportedly involve the declaration of a cease-fire and the retreat of several thousand fighters from Turkish territory. In return, Turkey is expected to enact reforms that would improve the rights of Kurds who make up some 20 percent of Turkey's population of 75 million.
In a message relayed by Kurdish legislators who visited him on his prison island, Ocalan said he plans to make a "historic" announcement to coincide with a March 21 Kurdish spring festival.
Ocalan, who is serving a life prison term for leading the insurgency, is expected to outline his vision for peace, which reportedly would include a widely anticipated call for a cease-fire to end hostilities and his rebel fighters' gradual retreat — two major steps toward the peaceful settlement of the conflict.
"In order for the withdrawal to take place quickly, and for the peace to be lasting, I hope that Parliament will fulfill the obligations of its historic mission at the same pace," Ocalan said in a message read by Kurdish party chairman Selahattin Demirtas.
It was an apparent reference to demands from Kurds for reforms to improve the minority group's rights, including a legislative amendment that would free thousands of Kurdish activists who have been jailed on terrorism charges for alleged links to the PKK. A bill to amend the legislation is currently being discussed by a parliamentary committee.
Kurds also want a new constitution, currently being drafted by four parties represented in Parliament, to grant Kurds equal citizen rights as ethnic Turks and grant more powers to local authorities.
Turkish officials have not revealed details of the talks with Ocalan other than to say that the rebels must lay down arms and withdraw from Turkey.
"On the issue of arms," Ocalan was quotes as saying "I want to resolve the issue quickly, without losing any time and without the loss of one single life."
"In order for this to come into practice, the support of the parliament and political parties would be invaluable," Ocalan said.
In an important symbolic gesture, the rebels last week released eight captive Turkish soldiers and officials they had been holding in bases in northern Iraq.
Murat Karayilan, who took over the PKK's command after Ocalan's capture and imprisonment in 1999, said in an interview with Firat News, a website close to the rebels, that his group has decided to support the peace initiative although the PKK has some unspecified reservations and concerns about the process.
Turkey and the West label the PKK a terrorist organization.