Turkish soldier 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Kurdish rebels on Sunday released eight Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq two weeks after capturing them in an ambush inside Turkey, private NTV television reported, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials.
The release came before Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets US President George W. Bush on Monday in Washington to discuss a possible cross-border offensive against the Kurdish rebel group.
Iraqi Kurdish officials confirmed that the soldiers were handed over to them and were in good health, NTV reported. The soldiers were expected to be sent to Turkey later Sunday.
The soldiers, accompanied by three Kurdish lawmakers from Turkey - who traveled to northern Iraq on Saturday to try to win their release - and Hussain Sinjari, the president of Tolerancy International, who has also been lobbying for their release, were on their way to the Iraqi city of Dohuk, pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency reported.
The US ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, also reportedly tried to secure the release of the soldiers, NTV said.
The soldiers were taken in an Oct. 21 ambush inside Turkish territory that also left 12 other soldiers dead. The ambush has been a key factor in the mounting pressure on Turkey's government to stage a cross-border offensive to fight Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq.
The release of the soldiers, however, was not expected to affect Turkish plans. Turkey's military and civilian leadership have repeatedly stressed their determination to stage an incursion if the US or Iraq do not crack down on rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.
The ambush on Oct. 21 near the village of Daglica in Turkey's mountainous southeast outraged an already frustrated public.
Demonstrations erupted across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the US and European leaders.
The US is pressing hard to keep Turkey from staging a cross-border offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in remote mountains of northern Iraq. The US designates the PKK as an international terrorist organization.
The Oct. 21 attack occurred four days after the Turkish Parliament authorized the government to deploy troops across the border in Iraq, amid growing anger in Turkey at perceived US and Iraqi failure to live up to pledges to crack down on the PKK.
Turkey now says it wants to hear specifics about what Washington is prepared to do to counter the rebel group, or Turkey will launch an attack. Rebel attacks against Turkish positions during the last month have left 47 dead, including 35 soldiers, according to government and media reports.
Rebels periodically cross the border to stage attacks in their war for autonomy for Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. Nearly 40,000 people have died in the conflict since the rebels launched their first armed attack against a military unit in 1984.