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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 01:40 GMT
PKK commander applies for asylum

By Chris Morris in Ankara

A senior commander of the Turkish Kurd rebel movement, the PKK, has applied for political asylum in the Netherlands.

Murat Karayilan, a well-known member of the PKK's seven-man presidential council, made his application on Wednesday - the day before a Turkish court is due to issue a verdict in an appeal by PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was sentenced to death earlier this year.

The presidential council is based in camps on the borders of Northern Iraq and Iran. It has been running the PKK on a day-to-day basis since the capture of Abdullah Ocalan in February.

Abdullah Ocalan Rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was sentenced in June
In its public statements, the council has supported Mr Ocalan's call for peace and reconciliation with Turkey, but there have been persistent rumours of splits developing within the PKK.

It is difficult to assess the significance of what are sometimes contradictory reports, but Murat Karayilan is generally considered to have been among the PKK's leading hard-liners.

Divisions in the high command

He was in charge of military operations in one of the most sensitive areas of south-eastern Turkey and he is reported to have expressed scepticism about the ceasefire which Mr Ocalan has ordered.

Now he has left the PKK's main stronghold, and his decision to apply for asylum may well be a sign of divisions within the PKK high command.

But the fact that he was able to travel across Europe to the Netherlands also suggests that there is a sympathetic network of Kurdish activists which agrees with his position.

At the moment, supporters of the PKK's peace initiatives still have the upper hand. If Abdullah Ocalan were eventually to be executed, however, all that could change very quickly.
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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
Kurdish hopes rise in Turkey
09 Nov 99 |  Europe
PKK members charged with terrorism
22 Oct 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Ocalan fate uncertain
17 Nov 99 |  Europe
PKK: We will not surrender
17 Feb 99 |  Europe
Ocalan file: Timeline

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