Kurdish rebels halt withdrawal from Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey — Kurdish rebels said Monday that they are suspending their withdrawal from Turkey into bases in northern Iraq over what they say is the Turkish government’s failure to advance peace talks aimed at ending a nearly 30-year-old conflict.

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, declared a cease-fire in March and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey in May. Turkey, in turn, was expected to enact reforms to improve Kurdish rights. But a PKK statement, carried by the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, accused Turkey of failing to honor the bargain and called on it to take steps toward ‘‘democratization and the resolution of the Kurdish problem.’’

The group said the cease-fire would stand.


Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag dismissed the rebel statement and said Turkey was determined to end the conflict. ‘‘Whatever the terror organization does is up to them. But Turkey will do whatever needs to be done.’’

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This is a politically sensitive time for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is facing local elections in March and may be reluctant to take controversial steps that may be seen as concessions to the rebels.

Erdogan’s government has said it is working on reforms but has delayed bringing proposals to Parliament. The government has also argued the rebels have not fully pulled out of Turkey.

The PKK said it wants the government to ease the isolation of the party’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and change antiterrorism laws to ensure the release of hundreds of Kurdish activists. Ocalan is serving a life term on a prison island and has limited access to lawyers and Kurdish politicians involved in the peace talks. Other demands include the education of Kurdish school children in their mother tongue.

The conflict between Turkey and the autonomy-seeking PKK has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States, and European Union.