News / Middle East

Kurdish Rebels Begin Withdrawal from Turkey

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters stand guard at the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniya, northeast of Baghdad, Iraq March 24, 2013.
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters stand guard at the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkish border in Sulaimaniya, northeast of Baghdad, Iraq March 24, 2013.
Reuters
Kurdish militants began their withdrawal from Turkey on Wednesday, a pro-Kurdish party leader told Reuters, advancing a peace process designed to end an insurgency which has killed 40,000 people and ravaged the region.

Turkish security forces manned checkpoints along the mountainous border with Iraq, keeping up their guard as the agreed pullout started by the first small groups of some 2,000 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters.

The withdrawal, ordered late last month by top PKK commander Murat Karayilan, is the biggest step yet in a peace deal negotiated by the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan with Turkish officials to end 30 years of conflict.

The PKK has accused the army of endangering the pullout with reconnaissance drones and troop movements they said may trigger clashes. But there was no sign of military activity in the grey skies over southeast Turkey.

"I can say the withdrawal began today based on the information we have,'' Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] co-leader Gultan Kisanak said. "Local sources report that the armed PKK militants are on the move.''

Security sources did not confirm the withdrawal. Fighters are accustomed to moving furtively and are expected to move in groups of around half a dozen in a process likely to take several months.

"We have observed movement among [PKK] group members, but have not been able to establish whether this is regrouping or preparation for a withdrawal,'' one security source told Reuters.

The withdrawal will be monitored on the Turkish side by the MIT intelligence agency
The first fighters were expected to arrive in Iraq within a week.

But a PKK commander for the Semdinli area told a local source that guerrillas were unable to cross into Iraq because of increased security, including new checkpoints and soldiers deployed on mountainsides.

On the narrow road to Semdinli, where the PKK launched their insurgency with an attack on August 15, 1984, soldiers and police appeared to be mostly waving regular traffic through.

Erdogan's gamble

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 tarnished 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.

Erdogan reiterated a call for the rebels to disarm before leaving. The PKK has rejected this, fearing they could come under attack, as they did in a previous pullback.

"They surely know the routes from which they have entered Turkey and can use the same routes to leave,'' Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday.

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

Mayor Tore said Semdinli residents were unnerved by the construction in recent months of new military outposts in the area, fearing the state was digging in for a longer war.

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, 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.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More