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PKK 'surrender' tests Turkey plan

19 October 09 16:15 GMT

Eight Kurdish rebels have crossed into Turkey from Iraq to give themselves up in a sign of support for peace efforts.

The PKK militants left their refuge in the Qandil mountains and were joined by 26 other Kurds, including refugees from a camp in Iraq, before entering Turkey.

They were met near Silopi by a Turkish judge and five prosecutors to determine whether they had committed any crimes.

Turkey has been working on a peace plan to end a 25-year conflict with rebels who want autonomy in south-east Turkey.

The PKK - or Kurdistan Worker's Party - this year marked the 25th anniversary of its fight for autonomy, which has resulted in more than 40,000 deaths.

The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently seeking opposition support for a negotiated settlement to end the insurgency.

Ahmet Turk, chairman of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Turkey's only legal Kurdish party, said Monday's move by the rebels "shows that the PKK is insisting on peace not war", Reuters reported.

Symbolic step

As Kurdish Turks gathered in Istanbul, thousands of supporters waving PKK flags were waiting in Silopi to greet the 34 Kurds as they crossed the border. Some had come from a refugee camp in Makhmour, south of Mosul in Iraq.

The rebels' "surrender" 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.

How they are treated after giving themselves up 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, our correspondent adds.

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

Rebel hideouts

The Turkish government has not said what measures it is prepared to include 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.

Turkish warplanes have launched numerous recent attacks on rebel hideouts in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, from where Ankara says some 2,000 PKK guerrillas regularly stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish territory.

Ankara this year urged Iraq's Kurdish regional government to expel the PKK from its territory, saying Iraqi authorities must promote efforts to curb the rebels.

Last November, Iraq, Turkey and the US formed a joint committee to assess and address the threat posed by the PKK fighters.

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