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Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 18:01 UK

Turkish judge orders PKK release

Kurdish rebels near Iraq's border with Turkey, 19 October 2009
A number of Kurdish rebels crossed into Turkey from Iraq on Monday

A judge in Turkey has ordered the release of five Kurdish rebels who crossed into the country from Iraq as part of a 34-strong "peace group".

The Kurdistan Workers Party members were charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation. The PKK is banned in Turkey.

But the judge ruled that they should not be held in custody as they had returned of their own free will.

Others from the group who entered Turkey on Monday were released earlier.

The group was made up of both PKK fighters from their stronghold in Iraq's Qandil mountains, and refugees from the Makhmour camp south of Mosul.

Turkey's Interior Minister Besir Atalay said the government expected up to 150 more ethnic Kurds to return in small groups.

The PKK's 25-year war for autonomy in south-east Turkey has left 40,000 dead, and Turkey is currently seeking a negotiated end to the insurgency.

Closely watched

Monday's event - which Ankara calls a "surrender", but which the PKK insists was no such thing - was a calculated symbolic step by the Kurdish separatists to test the new conciliatory approach promised by the government, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul.

The 34 Kurds could have surrendered and renounced their loyalty to the PKK, and faced little risk of prosecution, he says.

But they did not, rather insisting that they were acting under the orders of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader, our correspondent adds.

How the rebels are treated now will be watched closely in Turkey as an indication of the government's willingness and its ability to deliver on its promise of leniency for those willing to give up the armed struggle, says our correspondent.

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The group were acting under the apparent orders of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, who has been in jail since 1999.

They were greeted as they crossed the border into Turkey on Monday by thousands of supporters waving PKK flags, before being taken in for questioning by Turkish authorities.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the jubilant scenes at the border were a sign of hope.

"How is it possible not to be hopeful when we look at those scenes on the border?" he asked MPs in parliament. "Good things are happening in Turkey."

Mr Erdogan has called for opposition support for a peace plan which he launched two months ago.

But he has not outlined what measures would be included in a peace package. Suggested proposals are said to include constitutional reform, greater concessions to Kurdish culture and possible amnesties.

But the issue is delicate, says our correspondent, as any concessions to the PKK are sure to be condemned by nationalist politicians, being perceived as giving in to terrorists.



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SEE ALSO
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Turkey country profile
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