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Turkish captives to be released by Kurdish rebels: agency

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels are planning to release a group of captured Turkish officials within the next 10 days as part of a broader peace deal, the state-run Anatolia Agency reported on Saturday.

The PKK has been fighting Turkey's central government since 1984 and is negotiating with the authorities to try to end a conflict that has claimed some 40,000 lives.

Anatolia quoted a Turkish politician, Gultan Kisanak, as telling a news conference in Arbil, northern Iraq: ""I hope these (public) officials will reunite with their families soon."

It said Kisanak, co-chair of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, delivered a letter from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who has been negotiating the outlines of a peace deal with the Turkish government since last October.

Kisanak handed the letter to Murat Karayilan, the de facto leader of the PKK.

Turkish media reports over the past week have said that the PKK would release some 16 captured officials soon, in a first move towards peace.

Ocalan, imprisoned on an island near Istanbul since 1999, is proposing to withdraw his fighters from Turkey by August if Ankara pushes through reforms to end the insurgency, according to Turkish media.

Under his plan, the rebels would begin a formal ceasefire on March 21, the Kurdish New Year, said the Sabah and Star newspapers, which are close to the government.

The PKK is estimated to have around 2,000 fighters in Turkey, with several thousand more in bases in northern Iraq.

The guerrilla group originally took up arms to carve out an independent Kurdish state, but it has since moderated its goal to autonomy. Ethnic Kurds make up about 20 percent of Turkey's population of 76 million and live largely in the southeast of the country.

(Reporting by Seda Sezer; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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