ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the people of the Kurdish-majority southeast on Sunday to support new peace negotiations with outlawed rebels. “We have initiated a process... to give a chance to a political solution. As long as you stand behind us, we will tackle this problem determinedly,” Erdogan told party supporters in the town of Midyat, where the population is a mix of Kurds. Turks and Arabs. “God willing, we will solve this problem as long as you help us by your prayers,” he said in televised remarks, referring to the uprising launched by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 1984.

Turkey’s secret services resumed talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan late last year, with the ultimate goal of disarming rebels who use bases in Iraq as a launch pad for attacks on Turkish security forces in the southeast.

Ocalan, who was captured in Nairobi in 1999, is serving a life sentence in an island prison in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul.

Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is under pressure to bring an end to the nearly three-decade conflict which has claimed over 40,000 lives, mostly Kurds.

The PKK, which took up arms for autonomy in the southeast in 1984, is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.