ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Kurdish rebels say they will not release three German tourists kidnapped in eastern Turkey until Germany renounces policies against their group, a news agency close to the guerrillas said on Thursday.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier rejected the rebels’ demands and called for the immediate release of the three Germans, part of a climbing expedition in Agri province.
“The German government does not allow itself to be blackmailed,” Steinmeier said at an event in Berlin, adding the foreign ministry’s crisis unit was working hard to secure the freedom of the climbers.
Firat news agency quoted the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants as saying the three Germans were in good health. They were seized on Thursday after their 13-member climbing team established a camp on Mount Ararat.
“The German citizens in detention will not be released until the German state issues a statement renouncing policies hostile to the Kurdish people and the PKK,” the militants said.
Kidnapping tourists is a rare tactic for the outlawed separatist PKK whose activities are mainly focused on attacking military targets in southeast Turkey. However it did carry out kidnappings during the height of the conflict in the 1990s.
Agri province, which borders Iran, is to the north of the main PKK conflict region and is a popular destination for mountain climbers.
Local governor Mehmet Cetin said security authorities had sealed off Mount Ararat as they searched for the kidnapped climbers.
Last month Germany banned Kurdish television station Roj TV, which Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described as being a mouthpiece of the PKK.
Germany extradited two PKK militants to Turkey last year.
Germany is also seeking the release of four nationals kidnapped by pirates and now held in Somalia.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against Ankara in 1984 with the aim of establishing an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.
Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.