Britons escape Kurdish captors during gunfight

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TWO YOUNG British backpackers kidnapped by Kurdish rebels fled unharmed yesterday during a gunfight between their captors and Turkish security forces that left eight guerrillas dead, British diplomats said.

Anna Young and Michael Paterson had been seized at a rebel roadblock by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas on Sunday night while travelling by bus near the town of Kozluk in the south-eastern Batman province.

They were expected to fly back to Ankara today. Both were born in 1971 and are from Devon.

They had set out by bus from the eastern Turkish city of Van to the southern Mediterranean port of Mersin. After being taken hostage at 9pm on Sunday, they were forced to walk into the mountains, where they were joined by two Turkish hostages. They spent the night with the rebels, but broke loose at midday yesterday when Turkish security forces fired on the area.

'As I understand it, they weren't actually released by the rebels but fled into the arms of the security forces after the gunfight started,' a British diplomat told the Independent. They had to abandon rucksacks, passports and money. The diplomat said the Turkish rescuers escorted the Britons to the town of Batman, from where they telephoned the British embassy in Ankara. Until then nobody knew the two had been captured.

Ms Young's father told the Foreign Office when informed of the incident that he had told her not to go on the journey. Because of what it terms 'widespread terrorism', the Foreign Office has warned Britons not to travel in south-eastern Turkey 'unless on official business'.

In that case, they are advised to stick to main roads and towns, not to travel after dusk and to notify the embassy of all movements. The two followed none of that advice.

The PKK is still holding seven other tourists - three Swiss, one Italian, two Germans and a New Zealander - kidnapped this month to draw attention to the bloody separatist campaign. Western diplomats have ruled out talks with the PKK, which says the governments of the seven kidnapped tourists must negotiate directly for their release.

The PKK demands that foreigners seek its permission to visit the region and accuses tourists in general of indirectly funding Turkey's 'dirty war' against the Kurds.

Photograph, page 10