x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kurdish militants free abducted Turkish soldiers

Four Turkish soldiers seized by Kurdistan Workers Party militants have been freed, ending a brief standoff that may have damaged a fragile peace process.

DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY // Four Turkish soldiers seized by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were freed on Monday, ending a brief standoff that could have damaged a fragile peace process.

The abductions reflected an increase in tensions in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south-eastern provinces after two protesters were killed on Friday in clashes with police in Yuksekova, a town near the Iraqi border.

The deaths set off protests in other cities, raising fears an eight-month truce between the government and the outlawed PKK might be at risk.

The two officers and two sergeants were abducted on Sunday after a crowd of 200 to 300 villagers blocked traffic on a road in the rural Lice area of Diyarbakir, some 500 kilometres from Yuksekova, the military said.

The crowd included PKK guerrillas who checked identity cards of people driving through before seizing the soldiers.

The military said it had deployed special forces to the area backed by manned surveillance flights, and the abductees were handed over to local police early on Monday morning.

Security sources said politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) intervened to secure the soldiers’ release.

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Sunday that the kidnapping and the incident in Yuksekova were aimed at derailing his government’s efforts to end a three-decade-long insurgency by the PKK, but that he would not be deterred.

Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party headquarters in Diyarbakir, the south-east’s biggest city, was targeted late on Sunday by protesters with homemade explosives, which shattered windows in nearby buildings. No one was hurt in that incident, police said.

The clashes on Friday in Yuksekova began after a report that the graves of PKK members had been desecrated. Police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Despite the spike in tensions, the ceasefire is holding as Turkey and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, negotiate a peace process to end a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people over the past decade.

Mr Ocalan had also called for calm, BDP legislators said on Saturday after visiting him at his prison on Imrali island near Istanbul.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

* Reuters