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Turkey detains peace marchers

October 20, 2009|Associated Press

ANKARA, TURKEY — Unarmed Kurdish rebels in combat dress marched into Turkey from northern Iraq on Monday in a show of support for peace with the Turkish government.

The eight rebels, along with 26 other Kurds, were immediately detained by Turkish paramilitary police after crossing the border gate at Habur. They were moved to a military battalion's headquarters for questioning by prosecutors, the state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

Earlier, Kurds in northern Iraq celebrated with music and drums as the group left from a refugee camp, the news agency reported. The eight fighters joined the convoy from a camp in Iraq's Qandil mountains, where Turkey says the leaders of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, are in hiding.

The group was carrying a letter to Turkish officials saying its members hoped to make a "modest" contribution to peace with their journey, and listing requests, including an end to military operations against the rebels, according to Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency.

Other demands included allowing Kurdish-language education and ending what they called "pressure and oppression" by security forces in mainly Kurdish villages and cities, the agency said.

At the border, thousands of Kurds greeted the group on the Turkish side by waving Kurdish flags, singing, dancing and holding up banners calling for peace.

Riot police stood guard, while a helicopter circled overhead. Dozens of lawyers were on hand to assist the group during questioning, said Kurdish lawmaker Sabahat Tuncel.

The PKK -- considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union -- said its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, had given instructions for "peace groups" to travel to Turkey to promote reconciliation. A second group of rebels, mainly Kurds in exile in Europe, was expected to arrive in Turkey at a later date, Turkish news reports said.

The Turkish government has been working on an initiative to end the conflict, but has yet to release any details.

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