The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) released on Tuesday eight Turkish prisoners they had been holding for two years in northern Iraq, a Kurdish official told AFP.
The release comes as part of a new peace push carried out by the Turkish government to end the 29-year old Kurdish insurgency led by the PKK branded as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community.
“We have safely received the prisoners,” said Husamettin Zenderlioglu, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who was part of the delegation receiving the prisoners.
Zenderlioglu, who was in northern Iraq, spoke to an AFP correspondent near Turkey’s border with Iraq.
The release of the eight captives, including security officers and civil servants, came after a request by jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who spoke last month through visiting BDP lawmakers that he hoped to see prisoners “reach their families.”
The Turkish captives are expected to be sent with the delegation to Turkey through the Habur border crossing to meet their families and will be “transferred to the nearest airport,” Interior Minister Muammer Guler said ahead of the release.
Kurdish rebels said they would on Wednesday release eight Turkish captives to a delegation of pro-Kurdish party members as part of a renewed push for peace with Turkey.
“The prisoners will be freed and handed over to a delegation on 13 March, 2013,” an armed wing of the PKK said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
Ankara also confirmed that the eight captives, which include troops and civil servants, are expected to be set free on Wednesday and taken to Turkish soil, where their families are waiting to greet them.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the initiative should be regarded as “a gesture of goodwill” in the ongoing process while he ruled out speculations that the government made secret concessions for the release.
“The process is going just fine... There is big public support, expectation and hope,” Atalay was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolia news agency.
Peace talks resumed late last year between Ocalan and the Turkish state with the ultimate aim of ending the nearly three decades of violence which has claimed around 45,000 lives since the PKK took up arms against Ankara in 1984.
Ocalan, in jail for 14 years for treason, is expected to call on his outlawed PKK to abide by a ceasefire starting March 21, the Kurdish New Year.