ISTANBUL, Nov 5 (Reuters) The presence of pro-Kurdish parliamentarians at the release by Kurdish rebels of eight Turkish soldiers proves their party has links to the militants, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said today.
NTV television said an Ankara prosecutor had launched a probe into the presence of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputies in northern Iraq, where the soldiers were handed over by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas on Sunday.
The troops' release could ease public pressure on Ankara to launch an incursion into northern Iraq against around 3,000 PKK rebels who launch attacks into Turkey from bases there.
The three DTP lawmakers had gone to Iraq to help secure the release of the soldiers, who were captured in an ambush last month.
They were handed over to Iraqi Kurdish officials before being sent back to Turkey.
''They were caught red-handed,'' Cicek said of the three MPs in an interview with CNN Turk television.
''There is something that cannot be ignored in the footage from yesterday. It is very evident who is entwined with the terror group,'' he said.
Previous pro-Kurdish parties have been closed for links to the Kurdish guerrillas. The DTP denies any links to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The DTP, which has 20 members of parliament, gathers its support from the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey and Kurdish migrants elsewhere in the country.
The release of the soldiers came a day after the Iraqi government vowed to arrest PKK militants responsible for raids into Turkey.
Washington has urged NATO-ally Turkey to refrain from sending thousands of troops across the border, saying it could destabilise northern Iraq and cause a bigger regional crisis.
President George W. Bush is due to discuss the situation with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Washington today.
Turkey wants PKK leaders arrested and the closure of camps in Iraq used as bases for cross-border attacks in their 23-year campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey. Nearly 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK began its armed struggle in 1984.
Reuters NC DB2038