ANKARA, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Eight Turkish officials, kidnapped by the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and held in the mountains of northern Iraq for more than one year, were released Wednesday as part of the PKK's efforts for a "peace process" to end its three-decade insurgency.
The PKK handed over the abducted Turkish officials to a delegation of lawmakers form pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and representatives of human rights associations.
During his state visit to Sweden, Turkish President Abdullah Gul welcomed Wednesday the release of the Turkish officials, saying that if arms are laid down, "we can easily move on from security policies to reforms."
Turkey needs mutual gestures toward the peace process, said Sirri Sakik, a BDP deputy, adding that "this is the first step."
The release of the eight captives came amidst ongoing peace talks between the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who said he hoped to see prisoners "reach their families" when meeting with Kurdish politicians from the BDP in February.
During the upcoming meeting between Kurdish politicians and the PKK leader, Ocalan is expected to call for a ceasefire to go into effect on March 21, the traditional Kurdish festival of Newruz.
The Turkish government also expects Ocalan to urge the PKK members to leave the Turkish territory.
Turkey has not yet declared what it would offer in return, but the Turkish government has announced a possible cooperation with the pro-Kurdish BDP for the ongoing drafting of Turkish constitution in the parliament. Among the possible amendments of the constitution is the recognition of the ethnic Kurds, one of the main requests by the Kurdish movement in Turkey.
Previous talks between Turkish intelligence officials and Ocalan failed in 2011 over a PKK attack in Silvan town of southeastern Diyarbakir province which killed 13 Turkish soldiers. Talks with the PKK leader, who is serving a life sentence on Imrali Island, resumed in late 2012.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and most of the international community, took up arms in 1984 in an attempt to create an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. Since then, over 35,000 people have been killed in conflicts involving the group.