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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT


World: Europe

Fugitive on the run: Ocalan mystery tour

Kurds demonstrate in Hamburg, nothern Germany

It's been a roller coaster few months, not just for Abdullah Ocalan, but also for a number of European governments.

The Ocalan File
The Italians, Greeks, Germans and Russians have all been faced with acute diplomatic dilemmas over the fate of the Kurdish rebel leader.

Mr Ocalan was arrested in Italy in November, following his expulsion from Syria. Rome's refusal to extradite him on the grounds that a Turkish court could sentence him to death, sparked a fierce diplomatic row between the two countries.

Germany refused to help out, deciding against taking responsibility for trying and extraditing Ocalan, out of concern that this could spark conflict between its Turkish and Kurdish communities.

The Moscow connection

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


[ image:  ]


As in Italy the Russian government was faced by a hostile left-wing parliament, which believed Mr Ocalan should be given political asylum. But Moscow also had important trade relations with Turkey, which it did not want to impair.

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.

On the run


[ image:  ]
The final chapter in this extraordinary story began in January when the Kurdish rebel leader left Italy for an undisclosed destination.

He spent some time shuttling around Europe in a private plane in search of sanctuary.

At one stage he tried to enter the Netherlands but his plane was not allowed to land. There were also reports that Switzerland, Greece, and Serbia had refused entry.

In early February, Turkey's mass circulation Hurriyet ran the headline: "Like a Ping Pong Ball."

Then came the surprise announcement that the Turks had captured their number one target in Kenya - after a 12 day undercover operation.

Fall out

The dilemmas for the international community have in many ways only been heightened by Ocalan's capture.

Turkish justice will again be in the spotlight at a time when Ankara is pressing its case for membership of the European Union.

The Ocalan affair has revealed a strong sense of distrust among many Turks who believe Europe will never accept them as equal partners.

Many European politicians believe the Ocalan affair demonstrates that Turkey remains over-emotional, irrational and not yet ready to join their club. With Turkey in the middle of another bout of political instablility, such views may be fuelled by appeals to emotional nationalism in Ankara.

Whatever happens to Mr Ocalan in the end, he has already achieved something Turkey was desperate to avoid.

The Kurdish issue is now on the international agenda, and Ankara will find it hard to remove.



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