Turkey asks 'wise people' to help Kurd peace talks

AFP , Wednesday 3 Apr 2013

Turkey forms a consultative body to help in ongoing peace negotiations with Kurdish rebels, following a ceasefire agreement last month by jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader

Turkey said Wednesday it has set up a consultative body of "wise people" to help shape public opinion on the latest peace process with Kurdish rebels.

The initiative—which involves an array of figures including popular actors and a singer— follows a ceasefire call last month by jailed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The group of "well-respected people whose common ground is democracy and freedoms" is due to have its first meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters.

Following the announcement, three pro-Kurdish lawmakers visited Ocalan on his island prison off Istanbul a day before his 65th birthday, local media reported.

The personal visit, the fourth by lawmakers to the PKK leader, was interpreted as a sign of Ankara's goodwill in the process.

Among the "wise people" are journalists, academics, business people and rights activists, as well as some popular actors and a singer.

The 63-member group is being asked to inform people across Turkey about the budding peace process aimed at ending the outlawed PKK's 29-year armed campaign for self-rule that has killed some 45,000 people, mostly Kurds.

Ocalan called on 21 March for PKK fighters to lay down their arms and withdraw from Turkish soil in a breakthrough announcement after months of secret negotiations from his isolated jail cell with the Turkish intelligence agency.

Pro-Kurdish lawmakers have repeatedly said a binding parliamentary committee was needed to oversee the fragile process, but Erdogan has rejected the idea.

Previous attempts at ending the insurgency were crippled after splinter groups within the PKK torpedoed efforts or Ankara backtracked because of opposition from nationalist groups.

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