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Turkey: Kurd Leader Is in Italy

January 31, 1999

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkey and Italy sparred Sunday over a fugitive Kurdish rebel leader, as Rome denied claims by the Turkish premier that Abdullah Ocalan was back in Italy.

The whereabouts of Ocalan, wanted by Ankara for trial on terrorism charges, have been a mystery since he left Rome on Jan. 16 after two months of trying to get asylum there.

Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit told reporters Sunday that Ocalan had returned to Italy, then said he wasn’t convinced by the Italian government’s denial.

``We don’t know which words of the Italians to believe,″ Ecevit said. ``It is a known fact that the Italian government is not giving us the correct information in general.″

``It has become a puzzle,″ Ecevit said. ``He might have never left Italy.″

Italy’s ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.

``The person in question is not in Italy any more and won’t return,″ ambassador Massimiliano Bandini said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA in Rome.

But Ecevit said the Turkish government had heard through ``important and reliable source,″ that Ocalan was in Italy.

Ocalan’s lawyers have filed a formal request for political asylum since his apparent departure from Italy.

Italy refused to extradite him to Turkey because he faced the death penalty there.

Ocalan heads the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has battled Turkey for autonomy since 1984 in a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead.

Update hourly