Council of Europe UN Seek Answers on Ocalan

PARIS–GENEVA–BEIRUT (Reuters)–A top official of the Council of Europe will visit Turkey next week to discuss the conditions of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan’s detention and trial–the Council said on Friday.

A Council statement said the visit by Lord Russel Russel Johnston–president of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly–"is in no way an interference in the right of Turkey to prosecute those accused of terrorist activities."

The visit was intended "to seek assurances that the detention and the trial of Mr. Ocalan will fully conform with the international obligations of the Turkish state–and in particular with the European Convention on Human Rights," the statement said.

It would be in the general interest if international observers were present at the trial–it said.

It added that Russel Johnston would urge the Turkish parliament to move more quickly to amend Turkish laws on the death penalty. The Council of Europe requires its member states–of which Turkey is one–to ban the death penalty to comply with the human rights convention.

The office of UN human rights chief Mary Robinson has asked Turkey to provide more information about the conditions under which Ocalan has been detained–a UN spokesman’said on Friday.

The request was made by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertie Ramcharan to Tugay Ulucevik–Turkey’s ambassador to the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva–during talks on Wednesday–spokesman Jose Diaz said.

"Representations have been made to Turkish officials requesting complementary information on the conditions of the detention and arrest of Mr. Ocalan," he told a news briefing.

Robinson also backs the appeal made by the UN investigator for torture Nigel Rodley–who has urged Turkish authorities to ensure Ocalan be granted access to legal counsel and that an independent monitoring system be put in place to verify that the long-time fugitive is not mistreated–according to Diaz.

"It is a call the High Commissioner supports. She is following the situation," he added. Robinson has just returned to Geneva from an Asian human rights workshop in India.

Rodley–who went to Turkey last year to examine long-standing allegations of torture–will report his findings to the UN Commission on Human Rights. The 53-member state forum opens its annual six-week meeting in Geneva on March 22.

The British law professor–in a statement issued on Tuesday hours after Ocalan was whisked to Turkey from Kenya by special forces–said: "Fears have been expressed that he may be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

"I appeal to the Turkish authorities for clarification of the circumstances with a view to ensuring that Mr. Ocalan’s right to physical and mental integrity is protected."

Ocalan is being held in an island prison. Turkey has said it will not tolerate any foreign interference in the trial.

About 3,000 chanting Kurds marched through the heart of Beirut to parliament on Friday to protest against Turkey’s abduction of Ocalan.

The protest–composed mainly of demonstrators who arrived in Syrian buses–was the largest staged in either Syria or Lebanon since Turkey whisked Ocalan out of Kenya under still murky circumstances on Tuesday.

The tightly disciplined protesters–marching six abreast through the rebuilt heart of the capital–chanted Ocalan’s nickname "Apo" and vowed to sacrifice themselves for the Kurdish cause.

Paramilitary police armed with M-16 assault rifles watched from sidewalks as first a group of women and children and then the bulk of the estimated 3,000 Kurds marched past. A group of Lebanese Armenia’s joined in.

"The kidnapping and arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan by the intelligence of Turkey–Israel and the US with the participation of the governmen’s of Kenya and Greece is firm proof of the international terrorist alliance against the revolutionaries," said a statement presented at the entrance to parliament.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt marched with the protesters but a member of parliament accepted the statement on behalf of Prime Minister Selim al Hoss.

"We are here to support the Kurdish cause–the Kurdish people–one of the biggest problems of the 20th century," Jumblatt told reporters. He expressed doubts Ocalan would get a fair trial in Turkey.

The marchers on Friday burned a Turkish flag and raised banners hailing Ocalan as the "Mandela of the Kurds." One banner condemned Greece’s still unexplained role: "Greece has betrayed the Kurdish people and written a black history that we will never forget."

Syrian authorities have tightly controlled demonstrations in Damascus but Reuters reporters saw many of the protesters arrive in Riyad as-Solh Square on buses carry license plates from the Syrian cities of Aleppo–Homs and Hama.

Previous demonstrations in Lebanon–which had hosted bases of the PKK until early this decade–had involved only a few dozen protesters.


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