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

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid