Prague, 26 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The dispute between Germany and Italy over the Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan is likely to sharpen tomorrow when Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema travels to Bonn to apply direct pressure on the German government.
D'Alema will meet with Germany's new Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, his justice minister and probably officials from the federal prosecutors department. He will argue that Ocalan is not Italy's problem but Germany's, and that Germany should resolve it.
Italy feels its position is clear. It arrested Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), in Rome earlier this month in response to a German warrant originally issued in January 1990 and recently renewed. The warrant accused Ocalan of involvement in the murder of a Kurdish political opponent in the German city of Russelheim in 1984 as well as other crimes.
Italy says Germany should now honor its own warrant and request Ocalan's extradition. Germany acknowledges the argument but says it has good reasons for delaying an extradition request and a legal basis for doing so.
The chairman of the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee, Hans-Ulrich Klose, said on German radio this morning that Bonn must consider what he called "the possible negative consequences of an extradition request" -- as it is permitted to do under Paragraph 153 of the German criminal code. The clause allows Germany not to implement an extradition request if it considers that doing so could create problems.
Klose said Bonn feared that bringing Ocalan to Germany could lead to violence and street fighting between Turks and Kurds resident in the country. This could have what he described as further negative consequences. Klose said Germany did not want to import "the Turkish war."
There are around 2.3 million Turks working in Germany and about half a million Kurds. Relations between the two communities are often tense. According to the German security service, about 50,000 of the Kurds support Ocalan's PKK party and around 11,000 of them are considered extremely militant.
Klose said today that there were fears that even Kurds who do not support the PKK's use of terrorism could take to the streets in support of Ocalan. Thousands of them consider him the leader of the struggle for a homeland of their own.
Some German politicians have spoken seriously of the possibility of arson and assassination if Ocalan is put on trial in Germany. Several have said that it is even possible that some Kurds might burn themselves to death as a public protest.
In his radio interview, Klose emphasized that the decision is now a political one. German law makes a clear distinction between the operations of the federal prosecutors department and political necessity. Article 32 of the Constitution says the foreign ministry alone is responsible for relations with foreign states. As a number of German commentators have pointed out this week, this means the Government is not entirely bound by the law but can also take political considerations into account.
According to this view, the prosecutors acted correctly and without regard to political issues by issuing the original warrant for Ocalan's arrest in 1990 and by renewing it recently. However, the final decision on whether to implement the warrant and ask for his extradition to Germany rests with German politicians.
All this is likely to be explained in detail to the Italian Prime Minister in Bonn tomorrow. Whether he will appreciate the legalistic niceties is considered doubtful. As a German radio commentator said this morning: "For Italy, this is a German problem. It did what Germany asked by detaining Ocalan, and now it wants Germany to take over."