A Kurdish rebel commander has warned that fighting in Turkey's southeast could resume by June if efforts to end a 30-year insurgency make no progress by then, news reports said Wednesday.
Murat Karayilan's comments came days after Turkish and Kurdish officials declared a "new phase" in the peace process after widespread protests by Kurds in October had threatened to derail the talks.
Karayilan told Iraq-based Roj News that imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan would be freed from prison by April and wiykd attend a congress of his Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, if the talks progress according to a plan drawn up by Ocalan himself. However, Karayilan threatened to resume hostilities before Turkey's June elections if the government fails to advance the peace process by then. His comments were carried by Turkish and Kurdish media on Wednesday.
"If steps are not taken, we will start the war before the elections," Karayilan was quoted as telling Roj News.
Turkish Deputy Prime Yalcin Akdogan responded on Wednesday, slamming Karayilan's comments as "unreal, untimely, inopportune and provocative."
Turkey began talking to Ocalan in 2012 with the aim of ending the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
Ocalan declared a cease-fire in 2013 and ordered the PKK to withdraw fighters to bases in neighboring northern Iraq as part of the peace efforts. The cease-fire is still in place but the PKK halted the withdrawal a few months later, saying Turkey had not taken any steps to reciprocate.
Kurds accuse Turkey's government of using the lull in fighting to its advantage during elections and of not taking any concrete steps to advance the peace process in return.
Ocalan has been serving a life-term in prison on an island south of Istanbul since 1999 but retains influence over his fighters.