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Germany

PKK: German Hostages to be Freed if Turkey Ends Operations

Turkey's militant Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which is banned in Germany, says three German hostages it is holding would only be released if Berlin pressured Ankara to end military operations against PKK fighters.

Kurdish demonstrators are silhouetted by a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flag.

The PKK has often used abductions to bring itself international attention

Rebels from the militant Kurdish Workers' Party, PKK, which is banned in Germany, said three Germans abducted in Turkey last week were in good health but demanded that Ankara halt military assaults in the area where they were seized.

"The PKK is ready to release the three German tourists on condition that Turkey halts its military attacks in the area where they were captured," PKK spokesman Sozdar Avesta told reporters in northern Iraq's Qandil mountain range.

The three Germans were seized on Tuesday in Mount Ararat area of Turkey, believed to be the final resting place of the Biblical Noah's Ark. The PKK claimed that the Germans were working against the Kurds in Germany.

"Their arrest was a reaction to what Germany is doing. We urge the German government to undertake a new policy towards the Kurds."

PKK strong as ever

Protestors hold a flag showing Abdullah Ocalan, the founding leader of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' party PKK.

Kurds in Germany have protested against a possible major Turkish cross-border operation into northern Iraq

The latest incident appears to show that the PKK is as strong as ever despite a week-long Turkish offensive into northern Iraq earlier this year aimed at destroying the PKK's ability to use its mountainous hideouts to launch attacks inside Turkey proper. There are near daily reports of Turkish soldiers being wounded or killed in firefights.

The number of clashes, the hostage-taking and the rising incidence of soldiers being injured or killed by mines left by PKK rebels is nowhere near as high as in the early 1990s, when the conflict was its height.

But it is a significant increase compared to the start of the century when Turkey claimed its biggest success in its fight against the PKK: The capture in 1999 of separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan. In a feat that captured the imagination of Turkey, commandos arrested Ocalan in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Filmed with his capturers on a flight back to Turkey, Ocalan seemed a broken man. He said he was ready to do anything for the Turkish state and that he was a man of peace.

At his trial for high treason Ocalan said the PKK no longer wanted independence for south-east Turkey but instead greater cultural rights and he called for a bilateral ceasefire.

The PKK has since declared a number of unilateral ceasefires and fighting fell to extremely low levels in the early 2000s, low enough for emergency rule in the south-east to be lifted in 2002. At the time it appeared the Turkish military had won its battle with the PKK and the separatists appeared to have lost its appetite for battle.

Terrorist acts on the rise again

Young Turkish people wave a Turkish flag in front of the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

Turkish people have demonstrated all over Germany against Kurdish terrorism

By 2003, however, hardline elements within the PKK annoyed at Turkey's failure to make significant moves on the Kurdish issue, restarted attacks. Using bases in northern Iraq, hundreds of PKK guerrillas crossed the Iraq border into Turkey. One splinter group, the Kurdish Freedom Falcons also carried out a number of bombings in western Turkey resort towns.

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave hope to Turkey that the PKK would be forced to close down its northern Iraqi camps. The difficulty in holding Iraq together forced Washington to abandon its promises to deal with the PKK forcing Turkey to act on its own.

In February, Turkish troops backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes poured across the border. In a short operation, the Turkish military said it had killed more than 200 PKK separatists and destroyed a number of camps. Since then the air force has conducted a number of bombing raids on suspected PKK positions in northern Iraq. That hasn't stopped the attacks.

On Monday, July 14, the Anadolu news agency reported that two soldiers were killed in a armed clash with PKK guerrillas in the south-eastern province of Sirnak, two more to add to the more than 32,000 killed since fighting began in the early 1990s.

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