Kurdish rebels free abducted Turkish soldiers

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ANKARA, Nov 4 (Reuters) Eight Turkish soldiers, kidnapped last month in an ambush by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, were released in northern Iraq, a PKK official told Reuters today.

The release of the soldiers came a day after the Iraqi government vowed to hunt down Kurdish guerrilla leaders responsible for cross-border raids into Turkey, in an effort to avert a major incursion by the Turkish military.

In response to what it sees as foot-dragging by the Iraqi government and the United States, Turkey has mustered 100,000 troops on the border with Iraq and threatened to go after the PKK if nothing is done to rein them in.

Turkey wants leaders of the PKK arrested and the closure of camps in northern Iraq which they use as bases for cross-border attacks in their 23-year-old campaign for a homeland in southeastern Turkey.

The Turkish government stepped up its pressure on Baghdad to act against the PKK militants after PKK guerrillas killed at least 12 soldiers and captured the eight soldiers in an attack on a Turkish army post last month.

In northern Iraq, a Kurdish official said yesterday the regional government had shut down the offices of a political party which sympathises with the PKK, following calls by the Baghdad government.

Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, a senior PKK member, said the soldiers were released today.

''At 7.30 the eight Turkish prisoners were delivered to a delegation from the Kurdistan region which also included members of the Democratic Society Party (DTP),'' he told Reuters.

He declined to say where the soldiers had been released, but said they were in good health and were released without any ransom or conditions.

Turkish TV said US officials played a role in the release of the soldiers and showed footage of vehicles carrying the soldiers to Turkey.

Chaderchi said that the soldiers were in Iraq when they were released.

The PKK wanted to deliver a message with the release of the soldiers, he said.

''We want Turkey to release our president Abdullah Ocalan,'' he said.

Ocalan is serving a life sentence in a prison on an island in Turkey's Sea of Marmara.

An escalation of separatist violence in recent weeks and the capture of the soldiers sparked a huge public outcry in Turkey and calls for an offensive against the militants based in northern Iraq.

Release of the soldiers can ease the public pressure on the government to send troops immediately to Iraq to crush the PKK guerrillas there.

The Turkish parliament has approved a resolution allowing an incursion into Iraq, which was opposed by the United States and the Iraqi government.

The Turkish government stepped up its pressure on Washington and Baghdad to shut PKK camps in northern Iraq and hand over senior rebels.

Turkish media have said three lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish DTP were in northern Iraq for talks to have the soldiers freed.

The Turkish government had rejected any talks with the PKK for the release of the soldiers, but said it was doing everything necessary for their return.

REUTERS syu ht1334

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