ROME (Reuters)–Italy and Turkey looked set for a fresh war of words Wednesday after Rome’s Court of Appeal ruled detained Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan could go free because Germany had withdrawn its international arrest warrant.
Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained ever since Italy arrested Ocalan in Rome on November 12 and then refused to extradite him to Turkey because it retains the death penalty.
Italian authorities said they had only detained Ocalan–the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) because of the German arrest warrant. Since the Karlsruhe federal court had withdrawn that warrant–and with it a possible extradition request–the Kurdish rebel leader could no longer be held–the Court of Appeal said.
Following the Rome court’s ruling–Kurdish spokesmen’said Ocalan–who had been allowed to live at a private address in Rome but not to leave Italy–was not planning to travel abroad.
"He is a free citizen now–but he will stay in his villa in Rome," Ahmed Yaman–the Italian spokesman of the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan–told Reuters.
Yaman’said Ocalan would not go abroad as he had no travel documen’s. "In practice–it (the ruling) does not change much," he said.
PKK spokesman Emin Kaya confirmed that Ocalan was not planning to leave Italy in the near future.
"He will stay in Rome until the request for political asylum is processed," Kaya said.
Ocalan applied for political asylum soon after he was detained. An Italian Interior Ministry commission was due to start deliberating on his case by the end of December.
But even if the commission recommen’s asylum–the government has to make the final decision. Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema has already said Ocalan should face a trial–making it difficult for him now to back asylum for the Kurdish leader.
D’Alema said on Wednesday Ocalan would be kept under police surveillance and could not leave Italy–despite a Rome court ruling setting the detained Kurdish leader free.
But D’Alema–speaking as tensions resurfaced between Italy and Turkey–added that a decision over what to with the Kurdish leader–whether to try or expel him–could wait only a few days longer.
"What happened this morning has not changed the scenario … A surveillance order will be maintained," D’Alema told reporters after meeting party leaders in the upper house Senate to discuss the affair.
"But at this point–it is necessary to accelerate certain decisions," he said–adding that a decision would be taken "in the next few days."
Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said on Wednesday there were only two options–a trial or expulsion.
"The choices we have before us–as D’Alema told parliament–are to explore the feasibility of a trial in Italy otherwise there is only expulsion because Ocalan arrived in Rome illegally," Dini told reporters after talks with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"Ocalan is free from justice but he did contravene immigration regulations because he entered Italy on a false passport," Dini added.
Turkey responded to the Court of Appeal ruling by saying the decision would further strain relations between the two countries. "It is a sad verdict from the point of view of international relations and international law," Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin said.
Ocalan has said he would agree to stand trial if the international community also agreed to hold a conference to try to solve the Kurdish question and help find a peace settlement between Turkey and the Kurdish people.