AL-AMADIYAH, Iraq: Kurdish rebels on Wednesday freed eight Turkish prisoners in response to a new peace push by Ankara to end a 29-year-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
The release of the eight who had been held for two years in northern Iraq came after jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said last month that he hoped to see prisoners "reach their families."
"Responding to the call of our leader Abdullah Ocalan, today we handed over eight prisoners to a Turkish delegation," Bawer Pirson, a senior PKK security leader, told a news conference near Al-Amadiyah, a town about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Turkish border.
The captives included security officers and civil servants.
"We hope that our attempts succeed to develop a peace process," said the leader from the rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
He added: "The release was initiated with good intentions from our side."
"Today the ball is in Turkey's court, and they have to demonstrate their goodwill to develop a peace process."
Earlier, Husamettin Zenderlioglu, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who was part of the delegation receiving the prisoners, said the group had been received safely.
Ankara says the release should be interpreted as a "sign of goodwill" coming amid new peace hopes that could finally bring an end to the Kurdish insurgency.
"The peace process will not develop in Turkey without releasing our leader Abdullah Ocalan," Zenderlioglu told reporters following the release, echoing earlier comments from the rebel ranks.
"We hope that Turkey moves forward with this step and releases him," he added.
Peace talks resumed late last year between Ocalan and the Turkish state with the aim of ending the nearly three decades of violence which has claimed around 45,000 lives since the PKK took up arms against Ankara in 1984.
The PKK is branded by Turkey and much of the international community as a terrorist group.
The Turkish captives are expected to be sent with the delegation to Turkey through the Habur border crossing to meet their families and will be "transferred to the nearest airport," Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said ahead of the release.
Ocalan, in jail for 14 years for treason, is expected to call on his outlawed PKK to abide by a ceasefire starting March 21, the Kurdish New Year.
Both sides in the conflict have set out conditions they say would signal good faith and commitment to long-lasting peace.
The Kurdish movement is asking for the release of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Kurdish activists and politicians kept in detention on charges of links to the PKK.
Ankara in return insists "terrorists" need to withdraw from Turkish territory before the peace process can effectively begin, and has promised not to attack rebels wishing to leave the country.