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Turkish Kurdish Rebel Groups Dissolve

November 11, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The Kurdish guerrilla group that battled the Turkish army for some 15 years announced Tuesday that it was dissolving itself and was planning to form a new group that would likely would pursue Kurdish rights through negotiations.

The Kurdistan Workers Party changed its name to the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan, or KADEK, last year and announced a shift in strategy, saying it would peacefully campaign for Kurdish rights.

KADEK on Monday said it was dissolving to allow for the formation of a more democratic, broader group, but gave few details.

``KADEK is being dissolved in order to make way for a new, more democratic organizational structure that allows for broader participation,″ the group said in a statement.

Adem Uzun, KADEK representative in Rome, confirmed that the group is disbanding itself. ``We have been talking about a new formation for some time,″ he said.

The turmoil comes as the guerrillas face increasing pressure from Turkey and the United States, which both consider the guerrillas as terrorists. The group’s main fighting force of some 5,000 is based in the mountains of northern Iraq and is expected to face serious pressure from U.S. and Turkish forces as Washington struggles to bring stability to Iraq.

Turkey and the United States have agreed to a joint plan to combat the group and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Monday that KADEK fighters clashed with Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. forces Sunday in northern Iraq. One Iraqi Kurdish border guard was killed in the clash, officials said.

``Turkey ... wants to eliminate us by pitting the United States against us in Iraq,″ the Germany-based Kurdish news agency Mezopotamya quoted senior rebel commander Cemil Bayik as saying. ``Clearly, we have to organize an effective political struggle against those dangerous policies that could lead to a war. We have to succeed in this.″

Mezopotamya said the decision to dissolve KADEK was unanimously taken during the group’s Oct. 26 congress. The agency did not say where the congress was held.

The main KADEK guerrilla bases are in remote areas of northern Iraq and news of the group’s meetings are often released days or weeks after they occur.

Umut Ardan, a press spokesman for KADEK, said that the guerrillas would soon hold a press conference in northern Iraq to give details of their plans. He gave no date or details, but said that the group was looking to form a regional organization.

Turkey is home to some 12 million Kurds. Neighboring Syria, Iraq and Iran also have substantial but smaller Kurdish populations. Kurds in northern Iraq live in a largely autonomous area.

The PKK was founded in 1978 with the goal of autonomy in southern Turkey. It turned to armed struggle in 1984, and the fighting has claimed 37,000 lives.

The PKK declared a cease-fire after Turkish forces captured the group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999. Ocalan was sentenced to death by a Turkish court and is the sole inmate on a Turkish prison island.

Ocalan called for a cease-fire after his arrest, but the government has rejected it and fighting continues, although it has decreased considerably in recent years.

Kurds represent some 20 percent of the Turkish population, but the government doesn’t recognize them as an official minority, like Jews, Greeks or Armenians.

The Kurdish language is outlawed in schools and at official events. Over the past year, Turkey passed new laws that allow private Kurdish language courses and limited broadcasts in Kurd on television, but those laws have not yet been implemented.

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