Erdogan to Kurdish rebels: Lay down arms and get safe passage
ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday his government was determined to settle the three-decade Kurdish conflict and would guarantee safe passage for rebels wishing to leave the country.
"If you are sincere and honest, you lay down your arms," Erdogan told his ruling party lawmakers in parliament, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
"If you don't want to live in this country, you are free to go to any country you like. We assure you that ... we'll do our best not to let what happened at our borders before happen again," he said.
Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran all have Kurdish minorities in regions straddling their common borders.
In the past there have been clashes between Turkey's security forces and the PKK as they were leaving the country for northern Iraq where the group enjoys safe haven.
Ankara has acknowledged that a fresh round of talks was being held between Turkey's secret services and the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan with the ultimate aim of disarming the rebels.
Turkish media have speculated that the nascent talks have produced a roadmap to end the long-running insurgency in Turkey, which has claimed 45,000 lives, mostly Kurdish. But the reported roadmap has not been confirmed by either party.
Erdogan's remarks came as six PKK rebels -- including two women -- were killed in clashes with Turkish security forces near the Syrian border, a security source said.
The conflict erupted in the village of Dogancay in the southeast some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Syrian border and was continuing, the source added.
Erdogan said his government wanted peace but would not make concessions on fighting against "terrorists".
"We have opened our hearts to our Kurdish brothers. We did not drop bombs on them. We are dropping bombs on terrorists," Erdogan said.
"Today and tomorrow our fight against terrorists will persevere. There is no concession there."
The PKK, which took up arms for autonomy in the Kurdish majority southeast in 1984, is branded as a terrorist group by much of the international community in addition to Turkey.