Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sparked a firestorm of debate over the prospect of amnesty for PKK fighters, after a series of unclear comments cited in the media over the weekend provoked intense speculation about what his government may be planning.
"We are telling (rebels) who are on the mountains and have not engaged in bloody terrorist acts: 'go back to your mother and father'," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to members of his ruling party on Friday, which was widely quoted in the Turkish media.
Erdogan added: "Those who have never meddled (in terrorist acts), those who were exploited, are a loss for this country and for my Kurdish citizens. We want to prevent such loss. We hope that we will achieve positive results."
While en route to Lisbon for an EU summit on Africa, reporters pressed the Turkish prime minister to clarify the implications of his comments Friday.
"Earlier we passed a law, but the number of people who benefited from it did not reach the desired level," Erdoğan was quoted as saying in many of Sunday's newspapers. "With a new initiative we can minimize the number of people going to the mountains ; we can eradicate that. Then we can encourage people to come down from the mountains," he said.
Erdoğan revealed his government is working on a new proposal in collaboration with the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), but insisted talks with the PKK would not be a part of the planning. "We're not negotiating with anyone. We will say, 'This is the law, come turn yourselves in'," he said.
Many analysts interpreted Erdoğan's words as indicating Turkish officials are contemplating the passage of a new amnesty law, but Cemil Çiçek, state minister for coordination of counterterrorism efforts, rejected the notion. "We have no intention of passing a new amnesty law," Çiçek told Today's Zaman.
Turkish law currently permits PKK members who have not been involved in attacks to turn themselves in and inform on the group without fear of ending up in prison. Çiçek said 353 people have taken advantage of the terms of that law, and the prime minister's new plan would simply extend previous amnesty laws.
"As long as the current laws are enforced, those wishing to benefit from these laws may do so. A separate regulation will not be necessary. You cannot prevent people from joining the terrorists with laws. You can only make this possible with measures that you take. The government is taking every economic, social and cultural step to prevent new people from joining the group."
According to Hurriyet, part of the new planning takes into consideration that some PKK members may never want to surrender to Turkish authorities because a large proportion of them are not Turkish citizens.
These authorities note that the real joint cooperative efforts on this front may have to be between Ankara and Damascus. According to figures from the TSK, about 25% of the PKK living in the mountains in southeast Turkey hails from Syria.
According to Today's Zaman, past laws designed to pardon PKK militants and encourage them to return home have largely failed. Seven such laws were passed in the years 1985, 1988, 1990, 1999 and 2000. In 1995 members of various terrorist groups availed themselves of these amnesty laws, though most belonged to religious extremist groups such as Hezbollah and the Great East Islamic Raiders Front (İBDA-C).
Meanwhile, Hurriyet reports the operation by the Turkish Armed Forces along Turkey's borders with Iraq continues, with soldiers and special teams working to keep transit corridors used by PKK terrorists under observation.
TSK forces are reportedly concentrating much of their efforts on the Gabar, Cudi, and Cirav mountains near of Sirnak, with air support backing the ground troops.