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Saturday, November 28, 1998 Published at 01:06 GMT

World: Europe

Obstacles to an Ocalan trial

Kurdish protesters in Germany - Bonn does not want Ocalan

By the BBC's Pam O'Toole

Italy and Germany have called for action to ensure that Abdullah Ocalan, leader of Turkey's Kurdish separatist group, the PKK, faces trial in an international court or tribunal.

Bonn - which has an extradition warrant out on the rebel leader - now says it does not want him tried in Germany for fear of provoking trouble between its large Kurdish and Turkish communities.

Turkey wants to put him on trial, of course, but the Italian constitution prevents Rome from extraditing Mr Ocalan there, as Ankara still has the death penalty.

Over recent weeks there have been an increasing number of calls for Mr Ocalan, who is wanted on charges of murder and terrorism, to be brought to justice.

The United States is also thought to be in favour of the idea of taking Mr Ocalan to some kind of international court or tribunal, but neither the US, nor Italy or Germany have yet come up with any detailed proposals.

Professor Paul Wilkinson: "Some way must be found."
Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism at St Andrews University, says it is essential for Europe's credibility that Mr Ocalan be brought to trial.

"If the European countries are not prepared to take the basic steps to bring those accused of very serious terrorist crimes to court, then the rhetoric of European conventions and statements about terrorism is virtually meaningless," Professor Wilkinson says.

No court to try Ocalan

One international court that is already dealing with similar crimes is the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, but according to Professor Wilkinson, it is not an appropriate body to hear Mr Ocalan's case.

He says the tribunal is charged with dealing with crimes committed in full scale wars, rather than low intensity conflicts or terrorist actions.

Proposals to include terrorist acts in the work of the proposed permanent new International Criminal Court were also dropped earlier this year, because of lack of support.

Professor Wilkinson says that only a custom-built court - of the kind that was envisaged to try the Lockerbie suspects - could deal with the special case of Mr Ocalan quickly.

"If one is talking about creating a permanent court to deal with this, a kind of court that is complementary to the proposed International Criminal Court, then you're talking about quite a long term project and there is no sign of that emerging at present."

In the end, arranging an international trial for Mr Ocalan may well depend on co-operation from other western European countries.

And many of them may be reluctant to become involved for fear of provoking unrest within their own Turkish and Kurdish minorities.

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