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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kurds Move Up Withdrawal In Support of Relief Efforts

ANKARA, Turkey -- Rebels fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey said Wednesday they had begun the promised pullout of their forces.

The withdrawal, scheduled for Sept. 1, was moved up because of last week's devastating quake, said a statement from rebel group, carried by the Germany-based DEM news agency.

"To unilaterally stop the war at this time of heavy disaster is the greatest support to the state and people of Turkey," said the statement from the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party.

More than 12,500 people died, thousands more were injured and hundreds of thousandsleft homeless in last week's quake in northwestern Turkey.

The PKK said earlier this month it would transform from a guerrilla group into a political organization. It promised a unilateral cease-fire and a withdrawal.

The PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, ordered an end to the armed struggle after he was sentenced to death for treason.

Turkey has refused throughout the 15-year war to negotiate with the rebels, whom it considers terrorists. The conflict has killed 37,000 people, most of them Kurds.

The PKK statement said its forces in southeastern Turkey has already been drastically reduced. "Clashes that occur from time to time do not originate with us," the statement said.

The PKK also joined in the growing chorus of complaints about the government's slow response to the earthquake.

It said the Turkish state had lavished resources on fighting the Kurdish rebellion, to the detriment of its ability to cope with a natural disaster.

The Turkish army was sharply criticized for not doing more to help quake victims. In the southeast, however, it claimed 14 rebels killed in clashes.