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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 10:45 GMT
Turkey allows Kurdish conference

By Pam O'Toole
BBC regional analyst

A Kurdish demonstrator unfurls a PKK banner at a peace rally
Kurds are calling for more political and cultural rights
Turkey has allowed Kurdish writers to hold a conference in their own language for the first time in years.

Kurdish is being used in a literary conference which opened on Tuesday in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir.

The week-long event is being attended by Kurdish writers and intellectuals from Turkey itself and abroad.

It follows a series of fundamental reforms linked to Turkey's long-term bid to join the European Union, including measures to promote Kurdish.

Local officials admit such a conference would have been unthinkable a decade ago, when Ankara was in the midst of a bloody 15-year conflict with a radical Kurdish group, the PKK.

By the time that the group announced a ceasefire in 1999, more than 30,000 people had died.

Truce over

Ankara has not fully made its peace with the PKK, now renamed KADEK.

Turkish military officials still threaten to take action against remnants of the group, based in largely Kurdish northern Iraq.

PKK fighters in south-east Turkey
Kurdish militants recently called off their 1999 truce
And a partial amnesty offered to its members excludes the leadership.

Two months ago, KADEK said it was calling off its ceasefire, alleging that Ankara had failed to grant Turkey's 12 million Kurds greater political and cultural rights.

This conference marks a small step towards granting such rights, although leaks of a new European Union report on Turkey's progress towards EU membership seem to suggest that more still needs to be done.

Iraq fears

Meanwhile, Ankara remains highly suspicious of anything which smacks of Kurdish separatism, whether in Turkey itself or in neighbouring northern Iraq.

On Tuesday, Turkey's Ambassador to Washington alleged that Kurds were over-represented in Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council.

If there were to be a federation in Iraq, with the north belonging to the Kurds, he said, that would be a recipe for disaster.

Iraq's Kurds are equally suspicious of Ankara.

The fact that a proposal for Turkish troops to be sent to Iraq seems to have been put on ice is at least partially attributable to fierce opposition from Iraqi Kurdish politicians.

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