Turkish MP: Kurdish Leader's Isolation an 'Invitation to War'

Sirri Sureyya Onder says that Abdullah Ocalan's imprisonment terms are sowing worries, but stresses that his comments should not be understood as a call for violence.

HDP supporters wave flags of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during a rally in Istanbul in June 2015.
AP

REUTERS - Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan's isolation in his island jail near Istanbul amounts to an "invitation to war," a prominent pro-Kurdish lawmaker said on Thursday, as conflict flares between security forces and rebels in southeast Turkey.

Ocalan, jailed in 1999, has not been allowed visits by a delegation of pro-Kurdish lawmakers since April. The 67-year-old leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has also not seen any family members since 2014 or his lawyers since 2011.

Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast is currently experiencing its worst violence since the 1990s after a two-year ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state collapsed in July, wrecking a peace process launched by Ankara and Ocalan.

"Isolating Ocalan, sowing worries among the people about his life, safety and health conditions, is issuing an invitation to war," said Sirri Sureyya Onder, spokesman for the delegation that often visited Ocalan before the peace process fell apart.

"The path to prevent this is clear They must enable Ocalan to speak with his lawyers, us and his family," he told a news conference in the capital Ankara.

Two inmates sent to join Ocalan in jail on the island of Imrali to end his isolation were transferred to another prison two weeks ago, Onder added. Ocalan's family has voiced concerns about his well-being.

Onder stressed that his comments should not be understood as a "call to war." His Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) says it is opposed to violence and wants a peaceful solution for Turkey's large Kurdish minority.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan initiated the peace talks with Ocalan in 2012 with the aim of ending a three-decade conflict with the PKK which has killed around 40,000 people.

Erdogan, who says the peace process is now "on ice," said on Wednesday some lawmakers and mayors from the HDP were behaving like members of a terrorist group and he called for legal action against them. He views the HDP as an extension of the PKK, a group deemed terrorist by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Clashes have intensified in recent days as a major military campaign entered its fourth week. Residents complain that the operations are indiscriminate and that round-the-clock curfews have even left the sick unable to get to hospital.

In the town of Cizre, near the Syrian border, tanks pounded apartment blocks on Thursday, Reuters television footage showed. Helicopters circled and gunfire echoed through the town.

The authorities say the military campaign is targeting PKK militants, not civilians, and that it was launched in response to attacks on the security forces.

Erdogan said more than 3,100 PKK militants and 300 members of the security forces have been killed in the operations. Human rights groups estimate about 150 civilians have perished. The figures could not be independently verified.