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Western Press Review: Kurds and Ocalan, Kosovo In Headlines

By Charles Recknagel and Dora Slaba

Prague, 18 February 1999 (RFE/RL) - The violent protests by Kurds which have swept Europe following Turkey's capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan continue to dominate Western press comment today. But papers also cast a worried eye at the reported lack of progress at the Kosovo peace talks in France.

The Wall Street Journal says that Turkey's capture of Ocalan and the ensuing riots by his supporters across Europe "leave the Kurdish nationalist movement looking for a way forward and the outside world looking for a way to cope with the Kurds' problems." The paper says that the extent and length of the troubles in Europe will depend on the evolution of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after the loss of its leader. It notes that the party is "divided between its hawks, who showed their talons by staging demonstrations in Europe ... and doves who believe political methods should be used." The commentary concludes: "this isn't just of concern to European governments, who already host several hundred thousand Turkish Kurd immigrants ... but also increasingly a worry for the U.S."

Commentator Stefan Ulrich writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that "In the Ocalan case, the Europeans have failed: they wanted peace but they got unrest." The writer says that the Europeans have achieved "the exact opposite of what they had hoped for since Abdullah Ocalan appeared in Rome last November." Ulrich notes that European governments were afraid of sparking Kurdish unrest by putting him on trial but they also wanted to avoid extraditing him to Turkey to face the death sentence. Now violence has swept European capitals and Ocalan is in a Turkish jail. Ulrich concludes: "While Ocalan wandered from east to west for weeks in search of asylum, nothing better occurred to European politicians than to stare into the sky and hope the Ocalan bomb would not fall in their vicinity."

Among the Europeans, the biggest loser in the Ocalan affair may be Athens, according to an analysis in Le Monde. Didier Kunz writes that "for once, the Greeks can all agree on something: their worst possible scenario has come true ... Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel chief and Turkey's 'enemy number one' has gone from Greek hands into Turkish handcuffs." Kunz says that, even worse, "Greece finds itself accused by all sides: by the PKK which organized the occupation of Greek embassies across Europe, by Turkey which condemns the help Greece gave Ocalan, and by the international community and its own European partners" who were never told Ocalan was hiding in the Greek embassy in Nairobi.

An analysis in The New York Times says that Turkish-Kurds could be well served by the loss of Abdullah Ocalan as their best-known leader. Correspondent Stephen Kinzer writes that "one of the greatest modern tragedies for the Kurds, who have been oppressed, exploited and slaughtered by dozens of regimes over the centuries, may have been the rise of Abdullah Ocalan as their revolutionary leader." He writes that Ocalan is by most accounts dogmatic and tyrannical and that many Kurds followed him only by default. Kinzer says that "with no moderates to follow many Kurds turned to [Ocalan] despite their doubts about his tactics and personal traits" but in doing so they lost the sympathy of many in the international community. Kinzer concludes: "In the eyes of much of the world, [Ocalan] has done as much as anyone to discredit [the Kurds'] cause of creating an independent homeland."

Nicole Pope writes in Le Monde that the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan puts a heavy responsibility on Turkey to show that it can provide its most wanted enemy a fair trial. She writes from Istanbul that "contrary to the scenes of mass [Turkish] joy which greeted Ocalan's arrest in Rome in November, and which quickly turned to anger when Italy refused to extradite him, this time Ocalan's capture is getting a more sober reception." Pope observes that Turkish authorities appear to be aware that the trial of the PKK leader "puts Turkey in the hot-seat" as it is closely watched by the international community. The writer predicts that the trial also will set off a new round of debate in Turkey over the use of the death penalty, which has never been abolished although no prisoner has been executed in over 15 years. Pope says that prosecutors are certain to demand that Ocalan be executed "due to the gravity of the charges" of treason and terrorism, but by doing so they will only create a dilemma for Turkey's leaders.

Turning to Kosovo, The Daily Telegraph says Belgrade's continued rejection of the idea of deploying NATO peacekeepers to police any accord in the troubled Serbian province has made peace mediators "increasingly unsure about the chances of securing a deal" at ongoing talks in France. Correspondent Phillip Smucker writes that pressure is building on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to signal approval for NATO forces to patrol Kosovo before the West's weekend deadline for an agreement in the peace talks. But Smucker says: "Slobodan Milosevic yesterday flatly rejected the idea of NATO peacemakers being sent to Kosovo," which Serbs regard as their national homeland, and diplomats are warning that the Serb leader has "never been so rigid in dismissing Western demands."

Amid concern over Kurdish affairs and the Kosovo talks, the Financial Times also looks ahead to the upcoming Group of Seven meeting in Bonn this weekend. In an editorial, the paper says that the most pressing issue facing the group is the health of the European economy. It notes that this will be "the first meeting attended by representatives of the European Central Bank (ECB) vested with full monetary authority for the euro-zone." The editorial says that ECB president Wim Duisenberg is the world's most important central banker after the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve and that "it is time for him to demonstrate his understandings of the international responsibilities that accompany this role." The paper urges him to do so by "giving public recognition to the need to support European growth."