QANDIL MOUNTAINS, Iraq - Kurdish militants who have fought for autonomy in Turkey for decades will begin withdrawing to Iraq within two weeks, their commander Murat Karayilan said on Thursday.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) chief told a news conference in the group's mountainous stronghold of Qandil in northern Iraq that the pullout would begin on May 8. A Kurdish website had earlier given a date of May 5.
"The withdrawal is planned to be done gradually in groups and targeted to be completed in the shortest possible time," Karayilan said. "Our withdrawing forces will come and be based in southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has taken a huge political risk in pursuing negotiations with the PKK despite fierce nationalist opposition before elections next year.
The announcement bolsters a peace process launched some six months ago, in which jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has been in talks with Turkish intelligence agents on his island prison near Istanbul to end a conflict that has cost some 40,000 lives.
The struggle has wrought huge human, social and economic damage in NATO member Turkey since the PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state in the southeast.