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PKK confirms holding Germans hostage

Latest update : 2008-07-11

The Turkish Kurd rebel group PKK confirmed Thursday that they were holding three German climbers hostage, that they were in good health, and that they would be released if Germany gives up its "hostile policies" against the group.

Kurdish rebels confirmed Thursday they had kidnapped three Germans in eastern Turkey and threatened not to release them unless Berlin ended its crackdown against their group and supporters, the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported.

The separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said in a statement published  on Firat's Internet site, that the Germans, kidnapped while on a climbing trip on Mount Ararat, were in good health.

"The German tourists will not be released unless the German state announces that it has given up its hostile policies against the Kurdish people and the PKK," the statement said.

The German government, however, rejected the demands and called for the immediate release of the three mountaineers.

"The federal republic does not respond to blackmail," said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The three hostages, seized late Tuesday, were among a group of 13 German mountaineers climbing Mount Ararat -- believed to be the final resting place of the Biblical Noah's Ark -- in Agri province close to the borders with Iran and Armenia.

Turkish paramilitary troops have launched a sweep to try and rescue the hostages and Agri governor Mehmet Cetin told the Anatolia news agency Thursday that Mount Ararat had been declared off-limits until further notice.

The PKK warned Turkish authorities to call off the search.

"The tourists are in good health, but the Turkish state needs to stop its operation in the field in order to ensure the safety" of the hostages, it said, adding that the rebels had not mistreated the hostages.

Germany is home to about 2.4 million Turks, which includes about 600,000 Kurds. Some 11,500 are believed to actively support the separatist movement, according to official figures.

Last month, German authorities banned the Danish-based Roj TV from broadcasting in the country because it promoted the PKK. They also ordered the closure of a production house that supplied the channel with programming.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States, has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey's Kurdish-populated east and southeast since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

The group, banned in Germany for nearly 15 years, has in the past kidnapped people, among them soldiers, police officers and tourists, but it is not a tactic it frequently employs.

Date created : 2008-07-11