ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Kurdish rebel commander has said his fighters will release a group of Turkish soldiers and officials within a week as part of a peace process to end a 28-year-old insurgency, a news agency close to the rebels reported on Wednesday.
Turkish officials began talks last October with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an island near Istanbul, with the aim of ending a conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
As part of confidence-building steps, the PKK had been expected to release around a dozen Turks - most of them junior soldiers and police officials - whom it is holding at its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq.
"Technical preparations are now being made. We have decided to hand over the state officials who we are holding captive within a week," PKK commander Murat Karayilan was reported as saying by the Firat news agency.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the state in 1984. Its initial separatist goals have been moderated over the course of the insurgency to demands for improved Kurdish rights and limited self-rule.
Under a plan discussed by Ocalan and Ankara, the PKK would end hostilities and withdraw its fighters from Turkey as a prelude to disarmament in exchange for greater Kurdish rights, enshrined in the constitution.