Italian Minister Ties Kurdish Dialogue with Turkish EU Bid

ROME (Reuters)–Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said Wednesday it was legitimate for the EU to want a dialogue between Turkey and the Kurds if the former wanted to join the bloc.

Dini said Italy understood Turkey’s strategic importance as a NATO member and its importance as a trading partner but added–"No consideration of economic or strategic interests has ever made us less demanding in areas of respect of fundamental freedoms."

Dini–in commen’s to the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee–also reminded Turkey that respect for human rights would be part of the admissions examination if Ankara wanted to join the European Union.

Dini also said the Italian government would prefer that Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was tried in another European country but that Rome might be obliged to put him on trial in Italy.

Ocalan–leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–was arrested last month when he arrived in Rome from Moscow.

Turkey–which has branded Ocalan a terrorist–wants him extradited but Italian law forbids extradition to a country where a suspect may face the death penalty.

Dini said Italy was committed to seeing Ocalan put on trial so that all sides could air their positions.

"The Italian government believes it is necessary to guarantee the PKK leader a fair trial for the deeds of which he stands accused," he said.

Dini said Italy would explore all options for a trial in a third country according to a 1972 European convention on transferring a criminal trial.

Turkey has opposed the idea. It holds Ocalan responsible for more than 29,000 deaths caused by Kurd fighters and Turkish forces during the PKK’s 14-year armed struggle for self rule in the southeast.

The second possibility was that Ocalan could be tried in Italy under a separate convention which stipulates that a country can bring to court a person detained on an international arrest warrant but later not extradited–which is the case with Ocalan.

Germany issued two arrest warran’s for Ocalan but later declined to seek his extradition because of possible unrest in its large immigrant Turkish and Kurdish communities.

Asked by a committee member if the government feared Kurdish activity on its soil if a trial were held in Italy–Dini said: "We will carefully consider this danger if we should decide to move towards a trial in Italy."

Ocalan has said he would campaign against terrorism and accept the judgment of an international court provided the Kurdish political cause was aired internationally.

Dini said a solution to the ethnic conflict would have to include "respect for the territorial integrity of countries with Kurdish communities."

But he said there also was a need for countries with Kurdish communities to respect "the laws concerning the rights of peoples–regarding their self-government and cultural identity."

An Italian interior ministry commission will consider Ocalan’s request for political asylum after December 22–the end of a 40-day period following his arrest.

Another option open to Italy would be to expel him since he arrived in Italy on a false passport from Moscow. But Russia has made clear it does not want him back.

Political sources said there still was a possibility that Ocalan could be expelled to a third country if one willing to accept him could be found.

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