ISTANBUL – TDN with wire dispatches

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) confirmed yesterday they had kidnapped three Germans on a climbing trip in eastern Turkey and said they were in good health, the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency reported.
The group threatened not to release the hostages unless Berlin ended its crackdown against their group and its supporters, according to a statement by the PKK, published on Firat's Internet site.
"The German tourists will not be released unless the German state announces that it has given up its hostile policies against the Kurdish people and the PKK," the statement said.
The PKK's statement came as Mount Ağrı (Ararat) in the east of the country is declared closed to climbers until further notice in order to prevent mountaineers hindering the security operation launched to free the kidnapped Germans, the Doğan news agency reported yesterday.
Five members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, kidnapped three of a group of 13 German mountaineers late Tuesday as they were camping at an altitude of 3,200 meters.
The PKK members told the group that they were taking hostages in protest at the German government's crackdown on PKK-affiliated bodies and its supporters in Germany, Ağrı Governor Mehmet Çetin told the Anatolia news agency Wednesday.
The kidnappers took the tourists' mobile phones as they left the camp.
"The remaining mountaineers noticed in the morning that the PKK members had thrown some of the phones under a rock and used them to inform us," Cetin said.
Paramilitary troops have launched an operation to rescue the hostages, while the other climbers were brought down from the mountain.
Last month, German authorities banned the Danish-based Roj TV from broadcasting in the country because it promoted the PKK. They also ordered the closure of a production house that supplied the channel with programming.
The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and several Western countries, has been fighting for self-rule in the east and southeast of the country since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Mount Ağrı, situated close to the Iranian and Armenian borders, is the highest mountain in Turkey at 5,137 meters (16,853 feet) and is believed by many to be the final resting place of the Biblical Noah's Ark.
The Doğan news agency identified the kidnapped Germans as Lars Holger Renne, 33, Martin Georg, 49, and Helmut Johann, 65.
Governor Çetin said they will do everything in their power to rescue the kidnapped Germans safely. �We will consider opening Mt. Ağrı to climbers after the release of the tourists,� he said, adding that the rest of the mountaineering group left Doğubeyazıt yesterday for Istanbul.
The security forces have established a cordon around the mountain, reported Doğan news agency, noting that all details of individuals traveling to and from villages on the outskirts of Mt. Ağrı were being recorded.

Bad for business:
Travel agents and hoteliers in the region are furious over the wide coverage generated by the kidnappings, arguing that it has cost them serious business, reported Doğan.
One agent told Doğan that the biggest revenue generator in the region is tourism and after Mt. Ağrı is closed to climbing, no one will visit.