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Sunday, November 29, 1998 Published at 20:37 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan favours international trial

Mr Ocalan's arrest sparked protests throughout Europe

Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan is reported to be willing to face trial by an international court.

His lawyer, Giuliano Pisapia, quoted by Reuter news agency, said Mr Ocalan believed such a trial would give him a chance to prove his innocence.

The PKK leader has applied for political asylum in Italy, which has come under huge pressure from Turkey to extradite him for trial there.

William Horsley: Who has the will to bring Ocalan to court?
Germany and Italy have agreed to work together to bring Mr Ocalan to trial by an international court.

Legal experts from the two countries are to meet on Monday to examine how this could be done.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said it would be possible to create a European tribunal "if the political will exists" based on the Strasbourg convention against terrorism.

"We are studying proposals for a court in a European context. The possibility to transfer the trial elsewhere does exist, but let us look at the wishes of the Council of Europe as a whole," Mr Dini told La Stampa newspaper on Sunday.

Correspondents say Italy is anxiously looking for a way out of the Ocalan affair, which now threatens to escalate to a trade war with Turkey.

[ image: Mr Dini: Pressing for an international court]
Mr Dini: Pressing for an international court
The Kurdish leader is wanted in Turkey on charges of murder and terrorism, but Italy is constitutionally barred from extraditing people to countries where they could face the death penalty.

Germany also has an arrest warrant out for the PKK leader on charges of incitement to murder.

But Bonn has made clear it has no intention of extraditing Mr Ocalan, fearing unrest among Germany's 2.7 million Turks and Kurds.

Turkish diplomats have flown to Rome with a 900 page extradition dossier in an attempt to step up the pressure on Italy to hand the PKK leader over.

Turkey rejects European meddling

Ankara holds Mr Ocalan responsible for around 30,000 deaths during the 14 year separatist campaign for a Kurdish homeland in south east Turkey.

[ image: Abdullah Ocalan: Wanted man but unwanted problem]
Abdullah Ocalan: Wanted man but unwanted problem
The latest victims were 16 troops shot down in a Turkish army helicopter at the weekend

Mr Dini said he believed Mr Ocalan, arrested in Rome earlier this month, should be brought to trial. "A movement which commits crimes against humanity must face justice," he added.

His comments follow a meeting with German counterpart Joschka Fischer on Saturday in which they agreed to launch a European initiative to seek a "peaceful solution in south east Turkey".

But Turkey's caretaker prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, rejected the plans for a European bid to end the conflict.

"If the problem at issue here is the one between Turkey and its citizens of Kurdish origin, then the only place for a solution is Turkey," said Mr Yilmaz who was toppled in parliament last week.

Moves to expel Ocalan to Russia

Mr Dini, who is now visiting Moscow, is also hoping to get details of the events that led to Mr Ocalan's arrival in Rome on a flight from the Russian capital.

The PKK leader has applied for political asylum in Italy, but if the request is turned down he may be expelled as an illegal immigrant back to Russia.

"I will try to ascertain the series of events [leading up to his departure for Italy] and above all what the Russian position was on his decision to come to Italy," Mr Dini added.

Meanwhile, protests against Mr Ocalan continued in Ankara as thousands of minibus drivers toured the streets in convoy, sounding horns and sporting banners reading: "The baby-killer must be brought to justice".

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