PKK releases eight Turkish hostages

A picture taken in June 2007 of PKK fighters patrolling an area in the Iraqi part of the Qandil mountains near their headquarters on the Iraqi-Iranian-Turkish borders The PKK has fought a violent campaign for Kurdish self-rule since 1984

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The Kurdish militant group, the PKK, has released eight Turkish soldiers and officials it has held captive in northern Iraq for up to two years.

"We have safely received the prisoners," Husamettin Zemberlioglu, a Kurdish politician said.

The move is being seen as part of efforts to end the three-decade conflict between Turkey and the PKK.

Last month the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called for prisoners to be released by both sides.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Besir Atalay, welcomed their release as "a gesture of goodwill".

"The [peace] process is going just fine. There is big public support, expectation and hope," Mr Atalay was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolia news agency, before the handover was completed.

Analysis

The PKK wants to show that it is taking the peace process seriously. Releasing a number of Turkish captives may be the most immediately obvious gesture of good faith the movement can make.

The eight - six soldiers, a police officer and a trainee administrator - were captured in eastern Turkey over the last two years. They were held in the PKK's stronghold in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Their fate has not dominated national life in Turkey in the way that the captivity of soldiers and officials in other conflicts has done.

So far the Turkish government has reacted in a low-key fashion. It may be mindful that overly enthusiastic celebrations have a history of setting back peace talks. An earlier peace process in 2010 was damaged when Kurdish supporters publicly celebrated the arrival into Turkey of a number of exiled PKK fighters who had agreed to disarm.

On news of the release President Abdullah Gul said: "We are happy that our citizens who had been away from their country for so long, and from whom we had not received any news, are returning."

The freed eight are expected to be escorted across the border into Turkey, where they will be reunited with their families and flown home.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, launched its armed campaign for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in south-east Turkey in 1984.

It is regarded by Turkey, the US and EU as a terrorist organisation. More than 40,000 people have been killed on both sides, since the conflict began.

Last year saw some of the heaviest fighting in decades.

But, after several false starts in recent years, observers say peace efforts now appear to have greater momentum.

Members of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) helped mediate the release and were in northern Iraq to receive them.

"We hope that the release will open the way for the peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue," said a member of the delegation, Adil Kurt.

"It is important that [they] are returned to their families safely."

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