BEIRUT

Middle East

Rebels moot prisoner swap for five snatched Turks

ARBIL, Iraq: A Turkish Kurdish rebel group with bases in northern Iraq said on Saturday it would release five Turkish nationals it kidnapped last year if Ankara would agree to a prisoner exchange.

Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) spokesman Bakhtiar Doran said the five -- a town mayor, a policeman and three Turkish soldiers -- were snatched last year, but did not specify the date of their kidnap, or provide their names.

"We have in our hands a mayor, a policeman and three Turkish soldiers," a PKK statement attributed to Doran said.

"The PKK is treating these prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, and we will not release them without official agreement with the Turkish government on a prisoner exchange."

Doran told AFP by telephone that the group were kidnapped last year, but declined to give further details.

The PKK said in September that it detained a number of "military officials, a town mayor and 12 teachers", but did not give specifics. It was not immediately clear if the group of five were among those kidnapped in September.

The statement, which made reference to an October deal in which Israel freed more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was snatched by Gaza-based militants in June 2006, said: "If Turkey wants these prisoners released, it must take serious steps.

"The Turkish government has not carried out any efforts until now to release them."

Fighting between Turkish forces and PKK rebels has escalated in recent months.

In October, Turkey launched a major air and land offensive against the rebels in the southeast of the country and in neighboring northern Iraq after 24 of its troops were killed in a night-time ambush by rebels.

The PKK took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives. It is labelled a terrorist outfit by Ankara and much of the international community.

 

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