ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey’s main Kurdish rebel group on Monday extended a truce until elections next summer, denying responsibility for a suicide attack in Istanbul thought to have been the work of its own hardliners.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leadership said it was prolonging the unilateral truce, first declared on August 13, in a bid to push for a peaceful settlement of the 26-year Kurdish conflict.
“Our movement… has decided to extend the non-action process until the 2011 general elections in order to impose a democratic solution process (on Ankara) and ensure that the parliamentary elections… take place in a healthy environment,” said the statement, carried by the pro-PKK Firat news agency.
The elections have not been formally scheduled yet but the government has earmarked the first week of June 2011.
The PKK leadership also denied responsibility for Sunday’s suicide attack in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square which wounded 32 people.
“It is not possible for us to carry out such an action at a time when our movement has decided to extend a truce process … We are in no way involved in this attack,” it said, according to Firat.
The bomber blew himself up at a police patrol at Taksim Square as he tried to get into a police bus, wounding 15 officers and 17 civilians. No one was in life-threatening condition.
Interior Minister Besir Atalay said investigators had obtained clues, but more time was needed to name the group behind the attack.
No one has been detained so far over the incident, he said, as police released a picture of the bomber — a young man with a dark complexion.
Newspapers said the PKK had emerged as a primary suspect in the probe.
A senior security official, quoted by the Radikal daily, said the evidence was ruling out far-left groups, which have also targeted the police in the past.
“The actual suspicion has focused on the obvious organisation or some of its elements who are out of control or have split up from the group,” the unnamed official said, referring to the PKK.
Some commentators suggested the attack could be the work of PKK hardliners opposed to dialogue and might point at discord in PKK ranks.
A top PKK commander said last week the group would no longer target civilians and wanted to extend the truce indefinitely if Ankara makes reciprocal gestures.
Boosted by its victory in a September 12 referendum on constitutional reform, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has launched a cautious bid for a dialogue with the Kurds, seeking to cajole the PKK into laying down arms.
Ankara appears to have included jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in the effort, with his lawyers acting as intermediaries and holding meetings with him on the prison island of Imrali.
In its statement Monday, the PKK insisted on regional autonomy for the Kurds.
The fledgling dialogue with Ocalan, it said, should be turned into serious negotiations as part of confidence-building steps by Ankara, which should include the release of dozens of jailed Kurdish activists.
The group also warned it would respond to military operations, saying: “Our forces will position themselves accordingly in the face of annihilation attacks and use their right to retaliation.”
Ankara has already ruled out demands for a constitutional recognition of the Kurds and Kurdish-language education in public schools.
Resolving the conflict is an uphill task for the government in a country where many see the PKK as public enemy number one and fiercely oppose reconciliation moves as concessions to violence.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.