Istanbul: The Kurdish rebels are ready to step up their fight against Turkey in response to Ankara's crackdown, their leader said.
Since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) last year, Turkish government forces have been waging a blistering military campaign against the group in the southeast of the country. PKK leader Cemil Bayik said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was "escalating this war".
"The Kurds will defend themselves to the end, so long as this is the Turkish approach – of course the PKK will escalate the war," he told BBC in an interview.
Erdogan said this month that 355 members of the security forces had been killed in fighting as well as over 5,000 PKK members – although this could not be independently verified.
The PKK has been blamed for a string of attacks in Turkey in recent months, while two bombings in Ankara this year were claimed by a group calling itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a radical splinter group of the rebel movement.
The rebels are accused of trying to create a separate Kurdish state within Turkey, but Bayik denied it.
"We don't want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We don't want to divide Turkey. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely... The struggle will continue until the Kurds' innate rights are accepted," he said.
The PKK was ready to escalate the conflict "not only in Kurdistan, but in the rest of Turkey as well", he added.
Erdogan "wants the Kurds to surrender. If they don't surrender, he wants to kill all Kurds. He says this openly - he doesn't hide it," Bayik said.
The PKK launched a bloody insurgency against the Turkish government in 1984 seeking independence, beginning a decades-long fight for greater autonomy and rights for Kurds which has left 40,000 dead.
It later watered down its demands to seek instead more autonomy with cultural and language rights. Jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan called a truce in March 2013, but tensions over the Syrian conflict kickstarted the violence last year.
Erdogan has proposed stripping Turkish citizenship from supporters of Kurdish rebels and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is trying to alter Turkey's constitution, to allow prosecutions of pro-Kurdish lawmakers accused of "terrorist propaganda".
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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2016 15:34:54 IST