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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 18:31 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan: A diplomat's dilemma

Political leaders are unsure what to do with Abdullah Ocalan

By regional analyst Tom de Waal

The case of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has caused diplomatic headaches all over Europe.

Italy, where he currently resides, has angered Turkey by so far refusing a request for his extradition there on terrorism charges.

Germany has not helped its European partner out by deciding not to try and extradite him out of concern that could spark conflict between its Turkish and Kurdish communities.

That leaves the left-wing Italian government in a difficult dilemma.

Allowing Mr Ocalan to be sent to Turkey would alienate many Europeans, who say he would not receive a fair trial in Turkey.

But being seen to do nothing will seriously damage relations with Turkey.

International court

It has been proposed that Mr Ocalan could be tried by an international court, but setting up the procedures for such a trial could take years.

So in search of a quicker solution, the Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini has flown to Moscow, ostensibly for talks on a range of issues, but almost certainly to see if Russia can be persuaded to take the Kurdish leader back.

It has now emerged that Mr Ocalan spent about a month illegally in Russia before he flew to Rome on November 12 on a false passport.

One of the first things Mr Dini was seeking to clarify is how Mr Ocalan was allowed to leave the country.

He may have argued that Russia failed to act responsibly by not detaining him in Moscow and that - if his asylum application in Italy fails - he should be returned to Russia, where he came from.

Hostile parliament

The Russian authorities would not look on that prospect with any pleasure.

Just as in Italy, the government is faced by a hostile left-wing parliament, which believes Mr Ocalan should be given political asylum.

The State Duma voted on November 4 by 298 votes to none to call on President Yeltsin to give him asylum.

And Russia has a sensitive bilateral relationship with Turkey, which it does not want to impair.

Earlier this month Mr Ocalan himself alleged in an interview with the Moscow newspaper Kommmersant that he was forced to leave Russia after the government cut a deal with Turkey, securing promises of economic aid and cooperation over the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

If Mr Ocalan was put on plane back to Moscow, the Italians might try to sweeten their legal arguments with diplomatic and economic incentives to the Russian government.

One Moscow political commentator suggested - perhaps humorously - that the Russians might then resort to the tactic it tried when Mr Ocalan was last on its soil: simply denying it knows where he is and allowing this awkward man to quietly vanish.

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