Turkey says forces will take ‘care’ during Kurdish rebel pullback

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Turkey said Friday its forces would show “great care” during a pullback starting next month by Kurdish rebels heading back to their bases in Iraq, in a major step to end three decades of hostilities.

“Our armed forces and collective security forces will do their tasks with great care and attention,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Turkish television, without elaborating further.

Arinc did not provide any details on the government strategy during the withdrawal of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters from the Turkish territory but instead called on everyone to “act with sensitivity” and avoid any action which could “sabotage” the peace process.

The PKK’s retreat from Turkey will be closely watched because previous withdrawal attempts by the group have seen clashes between Turkey’s security forces and the PKK.

Arinc’s comments came a day after Kurdish rebels announced they would on May 8 begin withdrawing from Turkey into their safe haven in northern Iraq amid a peace push between Ankara and the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.

The pledged withdrawal, which is expected to take several months, is aimed to be finalized “as soon as possible,” according to PKK leader Murat Karayilan.

There are an estimated 2,000 armed PKK militants inside Turkey and up to 5,000 in northern Iraq, which has been used by Kurdish rebels as a springboard for attacks targeting Turkish security forces in the southeast.

Karayilan said independent observers could monitor their retreat but warned that his fighters would resort to self-defense if it came under attack by the Turkish army.

Arinc welcomed the PKK announcement.

The Kurdish rebel movement started an armed rebellion for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, which has cost around 45,000 lives.

Turkey has entered a process of a ceasefire with the PKK after months of clandestine negotiations with the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been serving a life sentence for treason on Imrali Island off Istanbul since 1999.