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Kurdish militants free abducted Turkish soldiers

Source: Reuters - Mon, 9 Dec 2013 11:23 AM
Author: Reuters
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* Abductions followed killing of two people in clashes

* All 4 soldiers freed after Kurdish MPs intervene, sources say

* Brief standoff could have damaged peace process

* Erdogan says unrest aimed at derailing peace talks (Adds military statement, clashes, Erdogan comments)

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Four Turkish soldiers seized by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were freed on Monday after Kurdish politicians intervened, security sources said, ending a brief standoff that could have damaged a fragile peace process.

The abductions reflected an increase in tensions in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeastern provinces after two protesters were killed on Friday in clashes with police in Yuksekova, a town near the Iraqi border.

The fatalities set off protests in other cities, raising fears an eight-month truce between the government and the outlawed PKK might be at risk.

The two officers and two sergeants were abducted on Sunday after 200 to 300 villagers blocked traffic on a road in the rural Lice area of Diyarbakir, some 500 km (310 miles) from Yuksekova, the military's General Staff said in a statement on its website.

The group included PKK guerrillas who checked identity cards of people driving through before seizing the soldiers.

The military said it had deployed special forces to the area backed by manned surveillance flights, and the abductees were handed over to local police early on Monday morning.

Other security sources said politicians from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) intervened to secure the soldiers' release.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the kidnapping and the incident in Yuksekova were aimed at derailing his government's efforts to end a three-decade long insurgency by the PKK, but that he would not be deterred.

Erdogan's ruling AK Party headquarters in Diyarbakir, the southeast's biggest city, was targeted late on Sunday by protesters with homemade explosives, which shattered windows in nearby buildings. No one was hurt in that incident, police said.

The clashes on Friday in Yuksekova began after a report that the graves of PKK members had been desecrated. Police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Despite the spike in tensions, the ceasefire is holding as Turkey and the PKK's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, negotiate a peace process to end a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people over the past decade.

Ocalan had also called for calm, BDP lawmakers said in a statement on Saturday after visiting him at his prison on Imrali island near Istanbul.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. (Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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