3 climbers seized by Kurdish rebels released

/ Source: The Associated Press

Three Germans seized by Kurdish rebels during a climbing expedition on Mount Ararat more than a week ago have been released in good condition, authorities said Sunday.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan called his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on Sunday to let him know the Germans were in Turkish custody, the Foreign Ministry said. Officials refused to say where or when the climbers were released.

In Berlin, Steinmeier confirmed the release but did not provide further details.

"Our thanks goes to the Turkish government and local security officials who from the beginning supported our efforts to work toward a solution," he said.

The hostages were released at noon Sunday, the pro-Kurdish news agency Firat quoted the Kurdistan Workers' Party rebel command as saying.

Trio in good condition
The three are in good condition and will be handed over to German authorities after a routine medical check, Agri Gov. Mehmet Cetin told reporters. Private CNN-Turk television said the climbers were staying in the border town of Dogubayazit, close to Mount Ararat.

The three men were kidnapped from eastern Agri Province on July 8, allegedly as a rebel protest against a German crackdown on supporters of the group known as the PKK.

The PKK has been fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984 in a campaign that has left tens of thousands of people dead. Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

A PKK spokesman said after the abductions that the group wanted to force Germany to stop cracking down on rebel supporters.

Cetin said the rebels were forced to free the hostages after being pursued by Turkish troops.

"They left them on a hill and fled," Cetin told a televised news conference. "Half an hour later, paramilitary forces picked them up."

However, the rebel command said the decision to release the Germans was solely taken by the rebels, Firat quoted the group as saying.

The PKK uses strongholds in northern Iraq to wage cross-border raids. Turkey has conducted frequent air raids on suspected rebel positions in northern Iraq and earlier this year also launched a weeklong ground offensive into Iraq to fight the rebels.