Kurdish militants have released eight captive Turkish public officers as part of peace efforts with Turkey, according to reports.

The hostages - six soldiers, a trainee local administrator and a police officer - were handed over in northern Iraq to a group including the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and NGOs. They are expected to return to Turkey soon.

The news was announced by Firat news agency, which is known for its ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

In February, the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, called for a prisoner exchange in a bid to end the 29-year conflict with Turkey. He said that both sides held prisoners and he hoped to see them "reach their families".

The initiative was welcomed by Besir Atalay, Turkey's deputy prime minister, and taken as a gesture of goodwill. "There is big public support, expectation and hope," Atalay told the state-run Anatolia news agency.

The number of hostages held by the PKK has been disputed and range from 10 to 20, depending on the source.

The release, which was delayed because of "technical reasons", took place in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, according to a spokesman for the BDP, Cemal Coskun.

"We hope the powers longing for peace and democracy will see the gesture and speed up the steps for peace," he told Firat.

Talks between Ankara and Ocalan, who has been imprisoned on the island prison of Imrali since his capture in 1999, have culminated in Kurdistan abandoning the project of an independent homeland within Turkey.