BINGOL, Turkey (Reuters) - Security forces were hunting for 18 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who escaped from prison in Turkey's southeast by digging a 70-metre-long tunnel, police said on Wednesday.
The prison break outside the city of Bingol comes days before Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan unveils a package of reforms designed to strengthen democracy and keep on track a fragile peace process to end an insurgency by Kurdish militants.
The PKK has been fighting for autonomy for the mainly Kurdish southeastern region for almost three decades in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
Among Kurds' demands are changes to the anti-terrorism law that would make it more difficult to jail non-combatants for ties with the PKK.
The prisoners who escaped overnight were convicted of or charged with belonging to the PKK or aiding and abetting the militants and are believed to be hiding in a mountainous, wooded area of Bingol province, security officials said.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters four of the men were on trial while 14 were convicted.
A peace process between Turkey and the PKK has faltered in recent months, with the PKK accusing the government of delaying rights reforms it has sought in exchange for a ceasefire.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan declared the ceasefire in March amid talks with government officials. The PKK started pulling its fighters out of Turkey in May but the push to end the conflict has weakened, with both sides accusing the other of failing to keep their side of the peace deal.
The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and United States.
(Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Janet Lawrence)