Italy Calls for Fair Trial for Ocalan

ROME (Reuters)–Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema said Tuesday he wanted to ensure the detained Kurdish leader Adbullah Ocalan faced a fair trial.

D’Alema–who has traveled to various European Union capitals to garner support from within in the bloc over the Ocalan case–insisted that attention also had to be focused on finding a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.

"We arrested that terrorist and we are working to bring him before a court–to put him on trial–something no one has known how to do or been willing to do," D’Alema told a radio phone-in program on state broadcasting network RAI.

Ocalan–leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is outlawed in Turkey–was arrested at Rome airport on November 12 after arriving on a flight from Russia–where he was reported to have spent a month after being expelled from Syria.

"Now we have a serious problem. We have to check all the possibilities so that Ocalan can face a fair trial–and I stress–a fair trial," D’Alema said.

Italy has said it detained Ocalan on the grounds of a German arrest warrant. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last week said Germany would not seek his extradition because of concern about unrest among Germany’s two million immigrant Turks and Kurds.

Turkey’s demand that Italy extradite their most wanted criminal to Ankara was dismissed by a Rome court as the Italian constitution forbids extradition to a country where a suspect could face capital punishment.

D’Alema is due to address Italy’s lower house of parliament–the Chamber of Deputies–on the Ocalan case at question time on Wednesday.

Italian Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio–who has spoken out against holding Ocalan in Italy until an international tribunal can be set up–said he believed the proper solution was to expel Ocalan. But he did not suggest where.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini traveled to Moscow on Monday and Italian newspapers said Russian leaders made it quite clear they would not accept him back if he were expelled.

"The most correct solution–which is outlined in article two of the immigration law–is that illegal immigran’s should be expelled," Scognamiglio told a hearing of the lower house defense committee. "But…that is not to say that that solution cannot be over-ridden by another way out which may be offered through international cooperation."

His remarks could be taken as yet another hint that Italy was positioning itself to put Ocalan on trial itself–perhaps with the help of its EU partners.

Italian news agency ANSA quoted French President Jacques Chirac as saying on Tuesday that Ocalan’s fate had to be discussed within the 15-nation EU and Italy should not be left to carry the burden of the case alone.

"This is a case that primarily involves Italy and Germany," ANSA quoted Chirac as saying in Potsdam. "But their EU partners cannot remain indifferent."

A special meeting of EU justice ministers was reported to have been scheduled to be held in Brussels next week to discuss the Ocalan case,” ANSA said.

When Italy refused to hand over Ocalan to Turkey–Ankara told Italy it would be an accomplice to terrorism. But the Turkish government–apparently after dialogue with the US State Department–has modified its tone.

As if on cue–Turkish Prime Minister Mezut Yilmaz on Tuesday urged Italy to put Ocalan on trial under the Italian legal system "so as not to leave his crimes unpunished."

By referring to Ocalan as a "terrorist," and with pressure within the EU to fight international crime and terrorism–it would be politically difficult for Italy to expel Ocalan.

An interior ministry commission will study Ocalan’s request for political asylum after December 22 – the last day of a 40-day period during which extradition requests can be received.

D’Alema said he would respect the "advice and recommendations" of the commission. But even if the commission backs asylum–it is the government which has the final say.

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