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Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 03:05 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan offers testimony on Pope assassination

Ocalan says the Pope's assassin has not told the truth

The Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is under house arrest in Italy, has said he is prepared to testify about the attempt to kill the Pope in 1981, and the unresolved murder in 1986 of Swedish prime minister, Olaf Palme.

In an interview with the Italian newsagency ANSA, Mr Ocalan accused the then Turkish military government of collusion in the killings. He said he had no formal proof who carried out the attacks but intended to talk to investigators about the situation in Turkey after the 1980 military coup.

"I don't know details nor do I have specific evidence on the two bloody attacks," he said.

Since his arrest in Rome last month Mr Ocalan has been the focus of a growing diplomatic crisis between Italy and Turkey which is seeking his extradition on charges of terrorism.

Criminal collusion

In the interview with ANSA Mr Ocalan said collusion between the generals, extreme-right nationalists and Islamic forces in the 1980s led to the release of many criminals who were linked to the nationalist group, the Grey Wolves.

[ image: Ocalan's arrest has sparked protests across Europe]
Ocalan's arrest has sparked protests across Europe
He said all of these people were released to carry out "special tasks". They included Mehmet Ali Agca, who is serving a life sentence in an Italian jail for attempting to kill the Pope.

A year after his arrest Mr Agca said that Russia and Bulgaria hired him, although he later recanted, saying he acted alone. Italian courts have since ruled there was no evidence of Soviet-bloc involvement.

Mr Ocalan said Mr Agca "never told the truth about the attack on the Pope", but he dismissed as fabricated, suggestions that his guerrilla movement, the PKK, was involved in the Palme killing.

Arrest warrants

Both the Turkish and German authorities have issued warrants for Mr Ocalan's arrest. However, under Italian law he cannot be extradited to Turkey because the death penalty is in force there, and the German Government has decided not to pursue his extradition for fear of upsetting Germany's large Turkish and Kurdish population.

But the BBC's correspondent in Rome, Frances Kennedy, says the likelihood of Mr Ocalan being granted political asylum is now looking slim, and the Italian Government is seeking to have him tried by some sort of international court.

In a separate statement released to German radio, Mr Ocalan the PKK leader welcomed Italy's proposal that an international court try him. However, he said such a tribunal would have to establish who was to blame for the deaths of thousands of people during the long war between the Kurdish separatists and the Turkish Government.

The Italian opposition meanwhile is calling for the immediate expulsion of Mr Ocalan.

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