( RIA Novosti ) - The Turkish government is planning to launch a new amnesty program for Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, the prime minister said on Monday.
Turkey, a NATO member with European Union membership aspirations, has long sought to put an end to attacks from northern Iraq carried out by some 3,500 militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
"Our goal [in submitting the new amnesty bill] is to encourage the [Kurdish] terrorists to end the current standoff and voluntarily surrender to the authorities," national media quoted Tayyip Erdogan as saying on his way to an EU-Africa summit in Portugal.
On November 30, Turkey's government authorized the military to conduct a cross-border operation against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, following parliament's approval in mid-October.
The country has deployed about 100,000 troops on the border with Iraq, according to army sources.
Commenting on Erdogan's remarks, Turkish media speculated that the new legislation could include a broad general amnesty for Kurdish militants, because an existing amnesty program, which pardons militants who leave the PKK voluntarily and who have not been involved in terrorist attacks, has so far only managed to persuade a mere 250 or so PKK members to surrender.
However, the new government initiative is unlikely to gain the support of Turkish opposition parties.
Speaking on Turkish TV on Sunday, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, harshly criticized the government's amnesty plan.
"Earlier laws backfired by boosting the morale of terrorists," he said. "An amnesty can work only if terrorists abandon their political objective, which is to divide Turkey."
The PKK, labeled by the U.S., NATO and the EU as a terrorist organization, has been fighting for autonomy status in southeast Turkey for nearly 25 years. The conflict has so far claimed about 40,000 lives.