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Military Begins Intensive Search for Kidnapped Germans

August 3, 1991

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Soldiers on foot and in helicopters searched mountainous eastern Turkey on Saturday for 10 German tourists and the Kurdish guerrillas who abducted them, officials reported.

Fifteen Germans were on a camping trip near a crater lake in Bitlis province when they were abducted by Kurdish guerrillas late Thursday. Five later managed to escape.

The semi-official Anatolia news agency said the guerrillas told witnesses the kidnapping was in retaliation for a trial in Germany of 104 members of the Kurdish Labor Party.

Anatolia did not elaborate on the trial. German law officials in recent years have cracked down on Kurdish terrorists based in Germany.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said late Saturday it assumed the kidnapping was not politically motivated.

The Kurdish Labor Party has been fighting in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast for seven years for a separate state.

A Turkish government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said military units were searching from land and air around the clock to find the Germans.

Authorities said several people were interrogated about the incident. They did not elaborate.

Anatolia said the guerrillas took the tourists from a coffeehouse near their camping site.

Azmi Serefhanoglu, a witness, told Anatolia that the gunmen shouted in the coffeehouse that ″we are in war with Germany, they (Germans) suck our blood.″

However, one of the tourists who escaped told the Bonn-based RUFA radio news agency that the kidnapping occurred at the crater lake. The differing accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

″We sat around talking and suddenly behind us, out of the clear blue sky, were people with machine guns,″ the tourist, Sven Possner, was quoted as saying.

A day rarely passes in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions without a report of a clash between the Kurdish guerrillas and the military, or of military operations against the Kurdish population.

But it is rare for the guerrillas to target foreigners.

In the latest series of attacks, Kurdish guerrillas launched rockets at a Turkish military headquarters and a building formerly used by the U.S.-led allied force in Siirt province, a government official in Diyarbakir said on Saturday.

The rockets aimed at the military headquarters hit an Iraqi refugee camp, killing one person and injuring another, he said on condition of anonymity.

The victim was an Iraqi soldier who deserted during the Gulf War, newspapers said Saturday.

The attack on the other building did not cause damage, he added. Both incidents happened Friday.

Turkey’s southeastern border with Iraq was the focus of an international effort to sustain and repatriate about 450,000 Iraqi Kurds who fled here after their rebellion in March following the Gulf War.

A U.S.-led allied force withdrew from northern Iraq last month and is stationed in Turkey to watch Iraq’s treatment of its Kurds.

About 3,000 people have been killed in clashes involving the Kurdish rebels since 1984.

The U.S. State Department constantly issues warnings to its citizens in Turkey about the risks of traveling in the east and southeast.

German Ambassador Ekkehard Eickhoff told The Associated Press that his government also its warned citizens not to travel in the dark or to camp in those areas.

Ethnic Kurds make up about one-fifth of Turkey’s population of 55 million.

Update hourly