ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Kurdish militants demanded concrete steps from Turkey to advance a fragile peace process on Tuesday, accusing the ruling AK Party of stalling and warning that the negotiations could break down.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu responded with a call for the rebels to declare they have renounced armed struggle - a key government demand to advance talks before a June general election.
There has been speculation in recent weeks that jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan would call an end to a conflict which has killed 40,000 people over three decades and stunted development in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
But his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) said on Tuesday that the AK Party was creating “false perceptions” and needed to show it was sincere.
“Concrete steps should be taken by the AK Party. Otherwise the peace process is at a very critical and dangerous stage, and near ending,” it said in a statement.
The government launched talks with Ocalan, who is in jail on an island near Istanbul, in 2012. Ocalan subsequently declared a ceasefire by the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and European Union, and its fighters began withdrawing to camps in northern Iraq where it is based.
Those involved in the talks remain tight-lipped on details, fearful of undermining prospects of a final deal. Kurds have been pushing for Ocalan’s release, an amnesty for fighters and steps towards autonomy.
Failure to strike a deal could cause problems for President Tayyip Erdogan, who needs the AK Party he founded to secure a large majority in a national election in June to push through plans for an executive presidency.
Davutoglu said the process was at a critical stage and those involved should be more careful about their words and deeds.
“We all have the right to expect a declaration that armed struggle has been renounced,” he told reporters during a visit to Pakistan, in comments broadcast live on Turkish television.
Thousands of Kurds rallied in towns across the southeast on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Ocalan’s capture, some clashing with riot police as they called for his release.
Some close to the peace process have said unrest in the southeast suggests the PKK is flexing its muscles as it looks to stamp its authority on the mainly Kurdish region.
Ankara’s hopes of a complete end to the PKK as an armed group have been frustrated by the role it has carved out for itself fighting in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State militants.
Battle lines have also been drawn in parliament over planned new security legislation, which would boost police powers. The PKK and the pro-Kurdish HDP have called for it to be withdrawn.
Media reports have said a peace plan drafted by Ocalan was set to be announced, a condition he set for an end to hostilities and the withdrawal of PKK fighters from Turkey.
Speaking in parliament, HDP joint leader Selahattin Demirtas accused the government of only focusing on disarmament and shying away from disclosing 10 articles on issues such as democratisation and freedoms.
Ocalan’s plan includes improvements in his jail conditions, government pledges to push through political reforms, establishing a body to monitor negotiations and an amnesty for sick PKK convicts, media say.
Abdulkadir Selvi, a columnist at the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, said PKK commanders in northern Iraq’s Qandil mountains had blocked the announcement of Ocalan’s disarmament call.
“Qandil is thus pushing the PKK leader into a position where he has no power of sanction and limited say over the group,” Selvi wrote on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay Orhan Coskun and Gulsen Solaker, Writing by Nick Tattersall, Editing by Angus MacSwan