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Turkish Cease-Fire With Kurish Militants Hangs By A Thread


To Turkey now and the fragile, seven-month cease-fire between Kurdish militants and the Turkish government. The long-running conflict has claimed some 35,000 lives, and the peace deal that stopped the bloodshed is now in jeopardy. The problem, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, is that both sides want the peace process to speed up.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in strong nationalist mode recently, but he has sprinkled in a few remarks about the Kurdish peace effort that sound, if not conciliatory, at least as if he's determined to push ahead with it. Instead of a peace process, Erdogan prefers to call it a settlement process.

PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) This settlement process has not reached the end. It is still a work in progress and every step we take is aimed at moving this process forward.

KENYON: Erdogan also says whichever side aborts this process will pay the price. His comments are seen as a response to an announcement from the militant PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party. A PKK commander in Northern Iraq said he was prepared to reverse the withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkey that began this spring and send his men back to resume their attacks if progress on the peace process doesn't pick up.

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the main Kurdish political party in Turkey, says the Kurds don't want to see the cease-fire end any more than the government does. But if the Kurdish people don't get answers to their longstanding political demands, he says there can be no lasting peace.

SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS: (Through interpreter) I don't know how long the cease-fire will last. The last statement from the commanders said they were ready to send fighters back into Turkey. We hope it doesn't come to that, but how long could it last? Who knows? In other parts of the world, peace efforts have gone on for 25 years.

KENYON: Hopes that rose in March when jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan ordered the cease-fire and the pullout of PKK fighters to Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq are now wavering. Demirtas says both sides have always been aware that such a protracted conflict would not be simple to resolve, but he says Erdogan's ruling party appears too focused on domestic politics and has offered the Kurds only weak and partial reforms, not enough to achieve a lasting peace.

DEMIRTAS: (Through interpreter) The ruling AK Party's slow movement on reforms is exposing the peace process to problems because events in the region are in flux and moving very fast.

KENYON: The immediate problem, Kurdish leaders say, is that the coming local elections are bringing the ruling party's nationalist rhetoric to the fore, just when a more inclusive reformist tone is needed. Demirtas acknowledges that this situation may not get much easier after the November local elections because next spring parliamentary balloting takes place followed by a presidential contest a year later.

Another aggravating factor is the conflict raging next door in Syria. Syrian Kurds are now battling Islamist rebel units for control of Kurdish areas in the Northeast of the country. Demirtas and other Kurdish leaders say Turkey is actively blocking the Kurds' access to supplies while supporting Islamist rebels, a charge the government denies. For the moment, both sides say the peace process is still alive.

The main reason, analysts say, is that neither said wants to be blamed for bringing a new season of conflict down on the country. Peter Kenyan, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.