Turkish soldiers' release eases invasion fears

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The Independent Online

Kurdish guerrillas have released eight Turkish soldiers taken prisoner in an ambush, reducing the threat of Turkey invading Iraqi Kurdistan.

The soldiers were captured two weeks ago in an attack by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters in which 16 Turkish soldiers were killed.

Their release yesterday was arranged by the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is eager to avert a Turkish cross-border campaign. Fuad Hussain, the chief of staff of the regional President, Masoud Barzani, said: "This issue proved one thing, that the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi leadership are part of the solution. They want to have a good relationship and they work to have a good relationship with Turkish people."

Iraqi Kurdish leaders fear that the regional government and not the PKK would be the real target of a Turkish offensive. Turkey has, in effect, shut its skies to aircraft flying to Iraqi Kurdistan, though the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denies it. The Kurdistan economy is vulnerable to Turkey closing the main trade route over the Habur Bridge.

Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, a PKK spokesman, said the eight soldiers were released as a message from PKK, without money being paid or conditions met. "We want Turkey to release our president, Abdullah Ocalan," he said. Ocalan is serving a life sentence in Turkey.

Though the PKK had been hinting, ever since they were captured, that the soldiers might not be kept for long, the decision to free them was probably the result of pressure from the regional government. Washington, Ankara, and Baghdad have all demanded action against the PKK.

The region closed two offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party on Saturday. And in a move likely to have more impact in reducing anger in Turkey, it has ordered its military checkpoints to stop foreign journalists going to areas in the mountains where they might meet the PKK.

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