BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Belgium used F-16 fighter jets this week to prevent a private plane suspected of carrying Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from landing on its territory.

A defense ministry spokesman said Friday the F-16s were on a routine training mission Wednesday when officials believed that a small plane was heading from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to bring Ocalan to Belgium. Ocalan had been refused entry into the Netherlands.

``The F-16s were used to escort that plane out of the country,'' a defense ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He could not confirm Ocalan was aboard the private jet.

The foreign ministry declined all comment.

Ocalan is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast since 1984. That conflict has cost some 37,000 lives.

He left Italy Jan. 16 after the Rome government refused to send him to Turkey, where is wanted on terrorism charges. Germany, which initially issued a warrant for his arrest, declined to seek his extradition for fear of aggravating relations with Turkey and sparking a backlash from Turks and Kurds living in Germany.

Since then, Ocalan's whereabouts have been a mystery. The Netherlands and Switzerland reportedly turned away his chartered jet this week and Russia, Greece, Belarus and Estonia have all denied that Ocalan was in their country.

Turkey wants Ocalan, 49, tried on terrorism charges, which carry the death penalty. Turkey also claims Ocalan's inability to find a new base to lead the PKK as a diplomatic victory.