Turkey moving Kurdish rebel leader to new prison

Istanbul - The jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abudllah Ocalan, will be moved to a new Turkish prison facility where he will be allowed for the first time to mingle with other prisoners, Turkish television has reported.

According to broadcaster CNN Turk, Ocalan will be joined by eight other imprisoned PKK members. The move is being seen as another part of the government's new "democratization" initiative, aimed at boosting the cultural and political rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Ocalan has been held in solitary confinement on the island prison of Imrali, off the coast from the city of Bursa, since his capture in 1999. Despite his isolation, Ocalan maintains a high level of control over the PKK and remains a popular figure in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish south-east.

According to CNN Turk, the new facility was built at a cost of 5 million dollars. Ocalan will remain alone in his cell, but will be able to meet the other prisoners during breaks, the broadcaster reporter.

Justice Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The PKK has been fighting Turkish forces since 1982, in a fight that has cost the lives of an estimated 40,000. Although the group originally sought the creation of a separate Kurdish state, it now calls for improved rights for Turkey's Kurds, believed to number between 12 and 15 million. (dpa)