BONN (Reuters)–Fearing unrest in Germany–Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder refused on Friday to ask for Abdullah Ocalan’s extradition from Italy–saying an international court should try the Kurdish leader.
Turkey said Germany’s decision made it all the more essential that Ocalan–arrested in Italy two weeks ago–be extradited for trial on its territory.
Schroeder asked Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema to appreciate German concerns about the possibility of conflict between Germany’s 2.2 million Turks and half a million Kurds if Ocalan were put on trial here.
"This is one of the most difficult decisions that has had to be made in the recent past," Schroeder told a joint news conference with D’Alema in Bonn.
"I have asked the Italian Prime Minister for his understanding that we will not make a request for extradition."
"This is because we are the country in Europe with the most Kurds–often refugees–and Turkish citizens," Schroeder said.
Italy had urged Germany to implement an eight-year-old arrest warrant for Ocalan–whose Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been waging a 14-year self-rule campaign in southeastern Turkey. Ankara blames Ocalan and his PKK for the deaths of 29,000 people in the conflict.
"It was simply the question whether we wanted…the feared conflict to be carried out in Germany or not," said Schroeder–who has been in office for just one month. "We decided to protect the peace in Germany."
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "As Germany announced that it would not ask for extradition–the only option is the extradition to Turkey of Ocalan–who is a Turkish citizen and has committed terrorist activities in Turkey."
Ocalan’s arrest in Rome sparked a row with Ankara–which wants to try him on treason charges. Italy refuses to hand him over to a country where he would face the death penalty if convicted.
Schroeder said he and D’Alema had agreed they would work immediately to have Ocalan appear before a European or an international court.
"I am convinced one must find a solution so that an international court can decide on Ocalan," D’Alema said.
He acknowledged that he had to come up with a suitable court by December 22 when the warrant ordering Ocalan held in Italy expires.
"I hope that we will have found a way to deal with this problem before that date," D’Alema said. Both leaders declined to say under what jurisdiction Ocalan could be tried. But German’sources said they were looking at the kind of compromise suggested in the Lockerbie bombing case where Libyan suspects would be tried under Scottish law in a third country court.
D’Alema and Schroeder said they would work with the European Union to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in southeastern Turkey.
"I believe Europe can deal with this issue as Turkey aspires to be part of Europe," D’Alema said–referring to Turkey’s desire to join the 15-member EU.
The talks between the two leaders in Bonn’s Rhineside chancellery were planned before the Ocalan crisis erupted.
Across the river several thousand Kurds braved icy rain to demonstrate against Ocalan’s detention.
"This is a scandal that he is even in jail–this is a leader like Mandela or Arafat," said student Scharo Garip–31.
"Germany is not being cowardly to Italy–Germany is being cowardly to the United States," he said.
Meanwhile Ocalan said Sunday he was willing to face trial by an international court because he believes it will give him a chance to prove his innocence–his lawyer said
"I am in favor of an international trial," Giuliano Pisapia told reporters. "So is Ocalan himself because it could be the place to face the charges made against him and of which he has no doubts about his innocence."
Pisapia said an international court would offer the possibility of deciding if "a situation of war" exists in Turkey between the government and Kurds and if international law regarding war should apply in his case.
At present Ocalan is living under police protection in a Rome villa.
He is effectively free but must report his whereabouts to police daily until a court rules on his asylum request.
Ocalan has applied for political asylum in Italy but if the request is turned down he may be expelled back to Russia–from where he arrived earlier this month.