It also came before a meeting on Monday between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, and George Bush, the US president, in Washington to discuss a possible cross-border offensive against the PKK.

 

Chaderchi said the eight soldiers were in good health and were released in Iraq without ransom or conditions.

 

Osman Ozcelik, a Turkish politician and member of a pro-Kurdish delegation said: "The soldiers were very happy because they are going back home."

 

On way to Turkey

 

Hoda Abdel Hamid, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, said on Sunday that the soldiers were on their way to Turkey. 

 

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"They left Irbil a little less that an hour ago [1030 GMT]. However, it is unclear where they will land whether it will be Ankara or in a military air base," she said.

 

She confirmed that the troops were currently in Turkish air space.

   

Washington has urged Turkey, a Nato-ally, not to carry out a major offensive, fearing it could de-stabilise northern Iraq and escalate into a larger regional crisis.

   

Release of the soldiers should somewhat ease public pressure on the AK Party government to send troops into Iraq.

 

But our correspondant says that their release has not really affected public opinion.

 

She said: "Their capture comes at the backdrop of heavy killing last month by the PKK south of the country where more than 40 soldiers were killed and so the public is really angry about that more than the capture of the soldiers".

 

Border troops

   

In response to what it sees as foot-dragging by the Iraqi government and the US, Turkey deployed 100,000 troops on the border with Iraq - threatening to go after the PKK if nothing is done.

   

Turkey wants leaders of the PKK arrested and the closure of camps in northern Iraq which they have used as bases for cross-border attacks.

   

The Turkish government stepped up pressure on Baghdad to act against the PKK after it killed at least 12 soldiers and captured the eight soldiers in an attack on a Turkish army post near the Iraqi border last month.   

 

An escalation of separatist violence in recent weeks and the capture of the soldiers sparked a huge public outcry in Turkey and calls for an offensive against the sperartist fighters in northern Iraq.

   

Diplomacy

 

Major powers and countries in the region, at an Iraqi security conference in Istanbul on Saturday, said the Turkish-Iraqi crisis must be solved by diplomacy.

   

But two days into the talks and Turkey still sees no progress.

 

Hoda Abdel Hamid said the meeting between the Turkish government, the Iraqi delegation and Condoleeza Rice, US secretary of state, did not go very well.

 

"Turkey says it has not received any new proposal to end the standoff and it is not impressed with the outcome. It is now waiting to see what Bush will put on the table", she said.