Kurdish rebels confirm Turkey pullout to begin Wednesday

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Kurdish rebel leaders have confirmed that their fighters will begin withdrawing from Turkey into bases in neighboring Iraq on Wednesday, the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported.

“Our guerrilla forces will take action for starting the pullout process as of May 8, 2013,” the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) command said in a statement carried by Firat on Tuesday.

The first batch of rebels will return to their bases in northern Iraq in a week’s time, according to the PKK.

“This process will continue in a planned and organized way.”

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.

Kurdish rebels had announced on April 25 that they would begin withdrawing on May 8 as part of a new peace drive between Ankara and jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

It followed a landmark ceasefire call in March by Ocalan, who has been involved in months of clandestine peace negotiations with Turkish security services.

In April, PKK Military Chief, Murat Karayilan called on Turkish authorities to let a delegation from the outlawed party visit their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan so that he could help convince rebels to participate in the withdrawal.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the “laying down of weapons” should be the main objective of the rebel retreat.

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government has faced harsh criticism from opposition parties over the negotiations, accusing Ankara of a lack of transparency.

The PKK, branded a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency with the aim of carving out an independent state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, but later modified its goal to political autonomy.

Pro-Kurdish politicians are focused on expanding minority rights and winning stronger local government for the Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey’s 75 million people.

Thousands of Kurdish activists, including dozens of elected officials, are held in prison on charges of backing the PKK.

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