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Some Kurdish Guerrillas To Surrender To Turkey

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters patrol near the Iran-Iraq and Turkish borders.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters patrol near the Iran-Iraq and Turkish borders.

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A group of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas is expected to surrender to Turkish military forces on October 19 in a gesture of support for Turkey's Kurdish initiative, a PKK official has said.

Eight fighters from a PKK camp in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq will cross the border to Turkey on the wishes of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said Rouzh Welat, a member of the group's foreign affairs department.

Two other groups of refugees and PKK supporters are expected to enter Turkey the same day.

"The command of the PKK has decided to support the peace initiative with sending three groups including supporters and members [of the PKK] who live in Iraq and Europe to Turkey on Monday in order to support peace and solve the Kurdish case in Turkey peacefully," said Welat.

The government has been working on a Kurdish initiative that is expected to give greater freedoms to Turkey's large Kurdish minority, including language rights by which Kurdish may be taught in public universities.

The reform process is seen as vital to boosting Turkey's European Union membership application and ending a 25-year conflict between the state and the separatist PKK, which has killed more than 40,000 people. It is unlikely to be a success without political consensus.

Another group of 26 refugees from Makhmour Camp in northern Iraq was also expected to return to Turkey. Many Turkish citizens fled their homes in southeast Turkey in the 1990s amidst violence between the military and the PKK.

Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds, of a population of 72 million, have long complained of discrimination by the state.

Turkey has been fighting the PKK since 1984 when it took up arms to carve out a homeland in southeastern Turkey.

Ocalan, who was imprisoned in 1999, continues to lead the PKK from his island cell off the Istanbul coast, but has focused lately on support for improved Kurdish rights in Turkey as a means to ending the conflict.