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Kurdish Rebel Leader Freed in Italy

November 20, 1998

ROME (AP) _ A Rome court freed a Kurdish rebel leader from detention today, ordering him to remain in the capital while his appeal for political asylum is considered.

Abdullah Ocalan, Turkey’s most wanted fugitive, has been held in a military hospital since he was arrested last week after arriving on a flight from Moscow.

Turkey has demanded the extradition of Ocalan, whose guerrillas have fought a 14-year war for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey. Nearly 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Italy’s refusal to immediately turn over Ocalan (pronounced OH-jah-lan) has infuriated Turkey, and today’s decision fed the anger and drew harsh criticism of Italy, a fellow NATO member.

``I am amazed,″ Turkey’s ambassador to Italy, Inal Batu, was quoted by the AGI news agency as saying. ``The head of a terrorist organization, a notorious assassin is treated by your country like a welcome guest.″

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz appealed to NATO for support, explaining that Ocalan is the ``worst terrorist of the century,″ Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters today in Washington that Ocalon’s rebel group was a terrorist organization and he should be extradited, preferably to Turkey.

Italy’s law prohibits it from extraditing someone to a country where he may face the death penalty, as is the case with Ocalan in Turkey.

Italian Premier Massimo D’Alema said he would not be intimidated and would comply with the court’s decision, which came after Germany’s announcement Wednesday that it would not seek Ocalan’s extradition on terrorism charges.

Because of Germany’s decision, Italy no longer felt it necessary to adhere to the German warrant for Ocalan, the court said in its decision. And as Italy could not extradite Ocalan because of the death penalty threat in Turkey, the court said there was no legal basis to keep him under arrest.

About 700 Kurds began dancing and chanting pro-Ocalan slogans in a central Rome piazza when they heard of Ocalan’s release.

In a written statement, Ocalan appealed to the thousands of Kurds who have traveled to Rome in a show of solidarity to return home and sustain the Kurdish cause through legal and democratic means.

``I don’t want our people to keep protesting and setting themselves on fire and I don’t want any behavior which might reflect badly on the Kurdish people,″ said the statement, read by a Kurdish spokesman in Rome, Akif Hasan.

Ocalan will be free to move around Rome but will have to notify authorities of any plans to leave his residence.

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