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PKK Militants Release Eight Turkish Hostages in Iraq

March 13 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish leaders hailed the release of eight hostages, including six soldiers, by Kurdish militants amid talks aimed at ending their fight for autonomy in the war-ravaged southeast.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, freed the hostages, which also included a policeman and a local government official, in northern Iraq close to the Turkish border. Five were kidnapped in 2011, while the other three were captured in Turkey’s southeast last year.

“It is a comfort that our citizens from whom we could not hear for a long time have returned safe and sound,” state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Turkish President Abdullah Gul as saying in Sweden. “If the violence stops and guns are silenced, then it would be easier to shift from security policies to reform. We’re in such a process, everyone should know it’s worthwhile.”

Turkish officials are engaged in talks with imprisoned PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan. Turkey wants the PKK to lay down arms and withdraw from the country.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler ruled out any behind-the-scenes deals for the release of the hostages amid speculation that the government may release hundreds of jailed Kurds accused of ties to the PKK.

The hostages were handed over to a delegation of Kurdish lawmakers and human rights groups who traveled to northern Iraq, Anatolia said.

The freed men will be transferred to their homes under tight security after questioning, TV24 television said.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and cost more than $300 billion over three decades, according to government figures.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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