Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 13:52 GMT
PKK seeks political solution
Abdullah Ocalan is keen to negotiate with the Turkish Government
By Regional Analyst Pam O'Toole
Abdullah Ocalan, leader of Turkey's Kurdish separatist group the PKK, begins his second week in Italy under decidedly improved conditions to those he faced when he arrived in Rome a week ago.
The Italian courts have agreed to release him from detention. And his chances of being able to stay in Italy, rather than face extradition to Turkey, look increasingly good.
Call for peace
Earlier this week, Germany's Foreign Minister suggested that Mr Ocalan's arrest could be the catalyst to bring peace and reconciliation.
It is a position that the PKK would like to capitalise on.
The PKK has called for a political solution to the Kurdish question before.
In September, amid reports that it was severely weakened militarily, it called a unilateral ceasefire in an attempt to tempt Turkey to the negotiating table.
Turkey refuses to talk
Ankara, as usual, rejected such overtures, maintaining that it does not negotiate with terrorists.
Mizgin Sen, European spokesperson for the PKK's political wing, the ERNK, said: "I believe Ocalan's determined to stay in Europe, and, taking all the risks, he is determined to start up a political process and believes the European Union can play a very important role in that.
"So now, there is a very clear statement from the PKK that they are prepared, that they favour a political solution, a negotiated settlement. And they are asking Europe to assist."
Even Mr Ocalan's most ardent supporters do not really expect Ankara to sit down at the negotiating table at this moment with the man it holds responsible for the death of 30,000 people.
PKK wants dialogue
However, the ERNK says it could be possible to start political talks at a much lower level at first and gradually work up to a higher level.
But it says the PKK must be taken into consideration, pointing to Turkey's own heavy-handed treatment of its Kurdish minority.
However, Turkish MP Bulent Akarcali rejected this argument.
"This is not an excuse to consider a real terrorist - a man who killed - to consider him as an interlocutor," he said.
"Surely the solution should be democratic. But this solution cannot start either with Ocalan or the PKK. If it will cost Turkey the membership of the European Union, we do not want this membership."
European relations sour
The current standoff has certainly harmed relations between Europe and Turkey. And Ankara seems no closer to starting a political dialogue with the PKK.
But Turkey must be aware that if Mr Ocalan is allowed to stay in Italy either as a refugee or on humanitarian grounds - and this seems likely - he may well try to develop his organisation's political influence in Europe.
That would be bad news for Turkey, and its relationship with the European Union.