ISTANBUL, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Kurdish militants will withdraw from Turkish territory by the Kurdish new year on March 21 under a peace process to end a conflict in which 40,000 people have been killed, a newspaper close to the government said on Thursday.
The withdrawal of the militants to northern Iraq, where most of the PKK's several thousand fighters are based, is planned to begin at the start of March as the weather in southeast Turkey starts to become milder, the Sabah daily reported.
Turkish officials have been in talks with jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan since late 2012 and he was expected to issue a call within 10 days for the militants to declare a ceasefire, the paper said.
Ocalan, imprisoned on Imrali island south of Istanbul, is widely expected to make the call via a delegation of Kurdish politicians who are set to visit him in early February.
The rebels took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. The PKK, declared a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, has since moderated its goal to one of autonomy.
Sabah did not disclose its source but has close links to the government. Only a few officials are involved in the talks and have not disclosed details publicly, fearing a nationalist backlash ahead of local and presidential elections next year.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)