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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid