Turkish security forces capture most Kurds who tunneled out of jail

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 26, 2013 10:32 AM

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - All but one of the 18 Kurds who broke out of a prison by digging a 70-metre tunnel in southeastern Turkey have been caught, officials said.

The escapees, who were either convicted of, or charged with having ties to the illegal Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), escaped on Wednesday from a prison outside the city of Bingol.

The provincial governor released a statement saying 17 fugitives had been caught near the village of Ortacanak, which is a mountainous, wooded area about 16 km (10 miles) from Bingol, after security forces launched an operation.

Earlier in the day, security officials had said all 18 escapees were captured. They later realized they had misidentified one of the men who was apprehended.

The PKK has waged a 29-year armed campaign for autonomy in southeastern Turkey, and more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in the conflict.

The group declared a ceasefire and withdrew some fighters from Turkey to bases in northern Iraq this year after the government began peace talks with jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to ease restrictions on Kurdish cultural and political rights and is due to present a so-called democratization package on Monday.

The legislative changes may help keep the peace process, widely seen as the best chance yet to solve the decades-long conflict, on track.

Four of the fugitives were in prison pending trial on charges of belonging to or aiding the PKK. The others were serving sentences following conviction on the same charges.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan, writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Mike Collett-White)