Kurdish Leader Abudllah Ocalan Arrested in Rome

ROME (Reuters)–The leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan–was being held at an undisclosed location in Rome Friday after his arrest at airport passport control.

Ocalan–dressed in a dark suit and multicolored tie–was detained at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Thursday evening after flying in from Moscow on a false passport–a police spokesman’said.

"He was arrested with the intention of his being extradited," the police spokesman told Reuters.

Turkey’s ambassador to Italy–Inal Batu–said Ankara had already asked Italian authorities to extradite Ocalan to Turkey.

"We hold him responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people throughout the last 12 years and for the destruction of many parts of my country," Batu told a news conference.

"We have officially asked the Italian government to arrest him–which has already been done–and extradite him to Turkey," he added.

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said an initial request had been made for Ocalan’s extradition and Turkish interior and justice ministries were preparing additional documen’s.

"We do not have the slightest doubt that NATO-ally Italy will adopt a wrong approach in this issue which is of vital importance for Turkey," Yilmaz said.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said it was Italy’s duty to arrest Ocalan–pointing out both Turkey and Germany had issued arrest warran’s for the PKK leader.

"Once he was identified–the Italian government had the duty to proceed with the arrest…given the charges against him," Dini told reporters on the margins of a conference in Rome.

The Italian justice ministry now has to consider the extradition of a man described as the main architect of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and head of a faction which has earned a reputation for its ruthlessness.

He fled abroad in 1980 after the army staged a coup and had lived in obscure exile ever since.

Ocalan–who is aged around 50–was believed to have been detained under the authorization of an Interpol arrest warrant.

While a Russian foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report that Ocalan flew from Moscow–sources indicated he was arrested by Italian secret service officers in an orchestrated operation.

Ocalan appeared before a Rome magistrate under a procedure officially confirming his arrest. The magistrate was expected to ask Ocalan if he accepted or refused to be extradited.

One possible obstacle to Ocalan being swiftly flown to Turkey was the issue of the death penalty. Italy’s post-World War Two constitution abolished the death penalty for civilians and prevents the extradition of suspects to countries where the death penalty is still in use.

One possible way round the contentious issue is for the country requesting extradition to promise not to condemn that person to death.

A senior figure in the ex-communist party of Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema said on Friday he did not believe Italy should extradite Ocalan.

Marco Pezzoni–leader of the Democrats of the Left party in the lower house of parliament foreign affairs committee–said the extradition request was a matter of "extreme international delicacy."

"Only a few weeks ago–the PKK leader escaped an ambush aimed at eliminating him," Pezzoni said in a statement. "There is no doubt–therefore–reasons exist for a request for political asylum–even temporary asylum–as has occurred for many Kurd refugees."

He said the right to asylum conflicted with Italy’s obligations to another European state–Germany. Pezzoni made no direct reference to the extradition request already made by Turkey.

"It is quite clear that an extremely delicate case is before the judges on the very question of rights. Which has precedence–the right to life of this person or the extradition request?"

"Personally–I believe the former should have precedence," Pezzoni said.

The vice chairman of Italy’s Senate foreign affairs committee–Stefano Boco–said Ocalan should not be extradited. Boco is a member of the Greens Party–which belongs to the ruling center-left coalition of Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema.

Boco–said Italy had to respect Ocalan’s human rights.

"Not in any circumstances should the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party be extradited to Turkey," said Boco of the Greens party–which belongs to the center-left ruling coalition.

"We believe–as do many Italian democrats–that the PKK represents the vast majority of Kurds living in Turkey," Boco told reporters.

Mizgin Sen–European spokeswoman for the PKK’s political wing–the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK)–said Ocalan had requested political asylum.

"He is here and he has asked for political asylum…We are waiting for his application to move forward," she said. "He decided to go to Italy to apply for political asylum."

The police spokesman’said Ocalan was being held at a prison but declined to disclose his whereabouts. Media reports said he was detained at Rome’s Celio military hospital.

Ocalan asked for political asylum in Russia earlier this month. On November 5–one-third of the Greek parliament renewed an invitation to Ocalan to visit Greece–calling him "the leader of the world’s most oppressed people."

In October–Turkey threatened Syria with military force if it did not expel Ocalan–who Ankara said had taken refuge in the country. Turkish authorities said Ocalan used bases in Syria to launch attacks in the southeast.

Ocalan–born to a poor peasant family in the southeastern village of Omerli–is the main architect of armed Kurdish nationalism. He founded the PKK in 1978

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