ISTANBUL // Kurdish parliamentarians set off by boat yesterday to visit the Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan in his island prison where they expected him to summon his fighters to cease fire and leave Turkey to help end a 28-year-old insurgency.
The conflict has been a major source of instability in Turkey and a huge burden on state coffers while stunting economic development in the mainly Kurdish south-east.
The delegation from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which includes non-ethnic Kurds, made no comment before leaving to see Ocalan on Imrali island in the Marmara Sea where he has been held since his capture in 1999, a BDP official said.
Ocalan's ceasefire call was expected to be announced at celebrations now under way to mark the Kurdish new year festival of Newroz on March 21. Those rites have in the past been marred by clashes between protesters and Turkish security forces.
Turkish officials have been holding talks with Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), since October with the aim of striking a peace deal to end a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people since 1984.
The complexities of resolving the conflict have scuttled several previous peace attempts. But the latest process is seen as the best chance in years for peace as a deal would ease the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's path to the presidency next year.
A BDP delegation previously met Ocalan in late February and since then the PKK leadership in northern Iraq and Europe have responded to his draft peace plan, which he was expected yesterday to finalise with a timetable.
The PKK commander Murat Karayilan said last week the PKK supported Ocalan's peace efforts but communicated its misgivings about the process in a letter responding to him.