Three German climbers kidnapped earlier this month by Kurdish rebels in eastern Turkey have been freed, the CNN-Turk and NTV television channels reported Sunday, July 20.
The German climbers were snatched on Ararat, Turkey's highest peak
"(Turkish) Foreign Minister Ali Babacan called his opposite number in Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to tell him that the three German citizens are now in the hands of Turkish forces and are in good health," said spokesman Burak Ozugergin.
The trio -- Helmut Johann, Martin Georpe and Lars Holper Reime -- were seized by separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on July 8 during a climbing expedition to Mount Ararat in Agri province.
"Because of our heavy operations in the region, the PKK was forced to leave them on a hilltop and flee ... The aim of our operations has been to prevent the terrorists from taking the hostages across the border," said Agri governor Mehmet Cetin.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier confirmed the release of the hostages
The men were released on a mountain in the region and were picked up 30 minutes later by police, the spokesman said.
"They are currently undergoing health checks and then will be handed over to the German authorities so they can return to their country," Cetin said at a televised news conference.
German government confirms release
Steinmeier later confirmed that the mountaineers were free.
"Given the circumstances, they are quite well," Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin, adding that German embassy staff in Ankara were ensuring they were being looked after.
"The main thing is that we, together with the released men and their families, are very relieved," said Steinmeier, thanking Turkish authorities for their cooperation.
Bavarian Prime Minister Guenther Beckstein said he was happy that the hostage drama ended without bloodshed and the climbers would soon be able to return home to their families.
PKK snatched climbers to force Berlin's hand
A member of the crisis team set up at the German foreign ministry for the release of the hostages
The rebels had said they would hold the hostages until Berlin ended its crackdown on PKK supporters in Germany, which is home to about 2.4 million immigrants from Turkey, including about 600,000 Kurds.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a personal appeal for the release of the Germans, but Steinmeier at the time rejected the demands for a change in policy in return for their freedom.
Listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, the PKK has waged a bloody campaign for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority east and southeast since 1984.
The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives, but the group's attacks in the past 10 years have usually targeted security forces rather than civilians.