The Kurdish rebel group the PKK has announced it will withdraw its thousands of fighters from Turkey starting on May 8.
The rebels from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), who have been fighting the Turkish government for the last three decades, will move to northern Iraq after leaving Turkish territory.
During the announcement, the armed group warned Turkey’s powerful military against “provocations” which would result in the end of the pledged withdrawal.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from the Qandil mountains where the news conference was held, said the withdrawal would take a phased approach.
The total dismantling of weapons and the disarmament of the guerrillas will come to the agenda when everyone, including our leader Apo, reaches their freedom.
“It will be a phased withdrawal from Turkey. They won’t put a number on how many fighters are coming but speaking later the PKK officials estimated that it will take several months for them to withdraw,” she said.
“That’s partly because this will be conducted as a guerrilla operation. One of the keys here is that they intend to keep their weapons. There will be no laying down of weapons in Turkey before they withdraw.
“They say they’ll go undercover of night with their weapons and eventually, once they’re all gathered in northern Iraq, they say with the approval of Kurdish authorities here they will discuss disarming.”
The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency says rebel commander Murat Karayilan made the withdrawal announcement on Thursday at a news conference in northern Iraq where the PKK’s leadership is based.
“As part of ongoing preparations, the withdrawal will begin on May 8, 2013,” Karayilan said.
“Our forces will use their right to retaliate in the event of an attack, operation or bombing against our withdrawing guerrilla forces and the withdrawal will immediately stop.”
New constitution demanded
The announcement comes after the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan ordered on March 21 a historic ceasefire following clandestine negotiations with the Turkish secret service aimed at disarming the rebel group.
Karayilan also outlined “obligations” the Turkish government needs to meet for peace to be achieved, including enacting a new constitution, the dismantling of special security units established to fight the rebels and an amnesty for all imprisoned fighters, including Ocalan.
Karayilan said the PKK’s leader, nicknamed Apo, had “fulfilled all of his responsibilities.”
“The total dismantling of weapons and the disarmament of the guerrillas will come to the agenda when everyone, including our leader Apo, reaches their freedom,” he said.
“Apo has fulfilled all of his responsibilities, now it is the Turkish government and our turn.”
A nationalist party is strongly opposed to the peace efforts and objects to freedom for Ocalan, whom it calls the “monster of Imrali,” in reference to the prison island where he is held.
“The only thing the PKK must do is to lay down its arms and give itself up to justice,” Oktay Vural, a legislator from the Nationalist Action Party, said.
“There isn’t a single concession the Turkish people can give the PKK terrorist organisation.”
The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group by Turkey and other countries, started an armed rebellion in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984.
The group had originally demanded full independence for a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, but has moderated its goals to broader political and cultural autonomy.