PKK begins withdrawal from Turkey in peace bid

As a group of militants began leaving the Turkish province of Hakkari, there was no sign of military activity and the militants were not accompanied by security forces or drones.

PKK begins withdrawal from Turkey in peace bid

World Bulletin/News Desk

Members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on Wednesday began leaving Turkish territory from the province of Hakkari.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas accused the army on Tuesday of endangering their agreed pullout with reconnaissance drones and troop movements they said could trigger clashes.

But on Wednesday there was no sign of military activity and the militants were not accompanied by security forces or drones.

Soldiers and police mostly waved drivers through four of the checkpoints on the narrow road to the town of Semdinli, near the borders with Iraq and Iran.

Some of the 2,000 PKK members based in Turkey were set to begin trekking through mountains to bases in northern Iraq on Wednesday, taking with them their kalashnikov rifles.

The withdrawal, ordered late last month by top PKK commander Murat Karayilan, is the biggest step yet in a peace deal negotiated between the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish officials over recent months.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken a huge gamble with the process, attracting a nationalist backlash before elections next year as he seeks to end a conflict which has put a huge burden on state coffers and damaged Turkey's image abroad.

Few areas have been scarred by the conflict more than the Semdinli area, accessible by a single road that cuts through emerald-green valleys and snowcapped mountains, and which witnessed the deadliest clashes in more than a decade last year.

"This town has never known normalcy, it has always been in the cross-hairs of war," said 30-year-old Mayor Sedat Tore. He does not remember a time in his life without the violence.

"May 8 represents an enormous opportunity to finally silence the guns. The people don't understand this process fully, but they are hopeful. They are searching for even the smallest ray of light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Pro-Kurdish politicians were in border villages in the mainly Kurdish southeast to monitor the pullout, which was due to take several months. The first fighters were expected to arrive in Iraq within a week.

Karayilan has warned that PKK fighters will retaliate if the Turkish army launches any kind of operation against them.

Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan previously called on members of the organization to lay down arms and leave the country.
Turkish authorities promised to create the conditions for PKK militants who laid down their weapons to freely leave the country.

The rebels are expected to move in groups of around half a dozen in a process expected to take several months, monitored on the Turkish side by the MIT intelligence agency and across the border by the Kurdish regional government of northern Iraq.

Incomes in the area are about half of those in western Turkey but exceed those of neighbouring towns due to a thriving business smuggling fuel, household goods and food from Iran and Iraq, Mayor Tore said.

Its population has grown fourfold since 1984 to 20,000 people as villagers fled their homes to escape fighting between Turkey and the PKK. 

Last Mod: 08 Mayıs 2013, 14:22
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