The first group of Kurdish fighters to withdraw from Turkey under a peace process has entered northern Iraq.
The 13 men and women arrived in the area of Heror near Metina mountain on the Turkish-Iraqi border on Tuesday and were greeted by comrades from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in a symbolic step towards ending a three-decades-old insurgency.
They were carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, light machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and had rucksacks on their backs.
After the welcome, the apparently-exhausted fighters put down their weapons and warmed themselves at a fire.
“We faced many difficulties because of rain and snow” during seven days on the road, one of the fighters said, adding that they were observed by Turkish aircraft.
PKK fighters began leaving their positions in southeast Turkey on May 8 after a ceasefire declared by Abdullah Ocalan, their jailed leader, in March to end a conflict that has killed 40,000 people.
“We ask the Turkish side to be sincere with us so we can achieve the common interest,” said Ciger Gewker, who spoke on behalf of the arriving fighters.
“The next step is up to Turkey. If they deal with our move in a positive manner it will be quicker,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Bamerni near Turkey’s border, said there was worrying signs among some of the PKK fighters who arrived in northern Iraq.
He quoted the leader of the group as saying that they were “ready for peace” and were obeying the PKK leader’s call to withdraw but others were sceptical about whether Turkey would implement the peace deal.
Some 2,000 PKK fighters are based in Turkey and will join several thousand of their comrades in their bases in northern Iraq in a process expected to take several months.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, is seeking political reforms to boost Kurdish rights in exchange for bringing the conflict to an end.
A permanent peace could transform Turkey’s impoverished Kurdish-majority southeast, where investment has remained scarce and infrastructure insufficient due to the threat of clashes.
Turkey is believed to be home to the largest single community of ethnic Kurds, who are scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Iraq’s federal government, which has made repeated complaints to Turkey about air and artillery strikes targeting the PKK in its territory, is not pleased that more of the group’s fighters will enter the country.
The foreign ministry said in a statement last week that while the Iraqi government welcomes any settlement that ends the PKK-Turkey conflict, it “does not accept the entry of armed groups into its territory”.
But it is Kurdish, not federal, security forces (Peshmerga) who man Iraq’s border with Turkey and ultimately decide who enters the region.