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In a Symbolic Gesture, 34 Kurds Turn Themselves in to Turkey


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In what is being heralded by Turkey as a major breakthrough in its conflict with the Kurdish PKK militia, a group of eight rebels and 26 Kurdish refugees have crossed over from bases in Iraq and turned themselves in to Turkish authorities. The symbolic move comes in response to a government initiative to end a long running conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives.

Turkish TV channels interrupted their broadcasts to announce the "surrender."

The group of 34 men and women smiled as they entered Turkish territory. They crossed over from the Iraqi Kurdish region, where most of the several thousand PKK rebels are reportedly based.

The militants have been fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. Thousands of kurds on both sides of the border assembled in support of the rebels.

A PKK official described it as a goodwill gesture to the Turkish government in response to its Democratization Initiative. The initiative aims to bring an end to the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK.

A Turkish government advisor, Ibrahim Kalin, says it is an important step.

"It is a very good sign. It is one first fruits of the democratic initiative, and we hoping that it this will be followed, to speed up the process so that we can move ahead other issues also cultural political as far the democratic initiative is concerned," Kalin said.

The government launched its reconciliation initiative earlier this year and has engaged in wide-ranging talks that have included the country's main Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party.

Prime Minister Erdogan has said he is considering far-reaching steps to resolve the conflict.

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This year, Turkish state TV launched a ground breaking channel in Kurdish, a language that was once banned by the government. The government has also reached out to the leadership of the neighboring semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish regional government. Until recently, Iraqi Kurds were accused by Ankara of working with the PKK.

External affairs spokesman for the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party, Safeen Dizayee, welcomes the surrender, but says the Turkish government must respond adequately.

"So far its an open ended project. There is not a solid idea, or at least publicly there is no solid project. We hope ideas can develop and can be formulated into a state policy. If you have something solid something more tangible which can guarantee an end to this violence, something that should be welcomed by all parties," Dizayee said.

But the government is also facing strong criticism from the powerful nationalist opposition, which accuses it of betraying the country, as well as those who died fighting the rebels. Analysts say the surrender of the PKK rebels has given momentum to the government's drive to resolve the conflict. But they add, the government now faces pressure from the PKK and much of its Kurdish population to respond by turning its words of peace into concrete steps.

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