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PKK frees Turkish hostages in northern Iraq

Eight Turkish public officials who had been kidnapped by the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were handed over on Wednesday to a Turkish delegation which entered Iraq on Tuesday to secure the release of the captives. The officials, who were being held in Northern Iraq, where the PKK has bases, will be accompanied to Turkey by the delegation. The delegation includes pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Hakkari deputy Adil Kurt and Bitlis deputy Hüsamettin Zenderlioğlu; Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal and his deputy, Selahattin Çoban; President of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Öztürk Türkdoğan; and İHD Diyarbakır Branch President Raci Bilici.

The government is also keeping at the Habur border gate -- where the released officials are expected to enter Turkey -- a delegation including a deputy undersecretary from the Interior Ministry and high-ranking security officers.

Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, signaled during a meeting with BDP deputies on Feb. 23 as part of ongoing peace talks that the PKK may release the kidnapped public officials. After the meeting, one of the deputies read a short statement by Öcalan that said: “The state and the PKK both have prisoners. The PKK should treat prisoners well, and I hope they can return to their families.” In the statement, Öcalan referred to both captured soldiers and government employees kidnapped by the PKK in recent years.

The officials the PKK was holding were kidnapped on various dates in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Van, Muş, Bingöl and Şırnak.

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