Prague, 16 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The fugitive leader of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, who has been on the run for some 100 days, has been captured in Kenya and returned to Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit announced Ocalan's capture to reporters at a news conference in Ankara today.
"Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the separatist terrorist organization PKK, is in Turkey as of 0300 this morning. We always said that our state would capture him wherever he may be. We kept our promise.... Abdullah Ocalan, who has been shut out of every place in the world, found himself in the arms of Turkey in the end. He will be accountable by the independent Turkish judiciary for his actions and for what he forced others to do.
Ecevit went on to say that, in his words, "It is time for everybody to realize that separatist terrorism will not lead anywhere in Turkey and that nobody can defeat our state."
Ecevit says just ten senior Turkish officials were aware of the 12-day undercover operation that led to Ocalan's capture. He declined to give further details about the operation beyond saying that neither Ocalan nor anyone else was injured.
Ankara has repeatedly refused calls for a cease-fire by the PKK, saying it will not negotiate with terrorists. Today, Ecevit appealed to the estimated 10,000 PKK insurgents and supporters to lay down their arms and surrender. He said that if they do, in his words, "our nation will then enable you to take advantage of the law of repentance."
Turkey's independent TV station, NTV, says Ocalan arrived from Kenya, landing briefly at Bandirma, 120 kms south of Istanbul, before flying on to Ankara.
Ocalan is wanted in Turkey on charges of terrorism arising out of the PKK's struggle for autonomous status for Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds in the country's southeast. The PKK launched a guerrilla war in 1984 that has left some 30,000 people dead. If convicted he faces the death penalty. However, Turkey has not executed a convicted prisoner for more than 12 years.
Ocalan had been residing in neighboring Syria until last autumn when Turkey began to press Damascus in a bid to force Ocalan out of his Syrian exile and to end Syrian support for PKK activities against Turkey. Following reports and denials that Ocalan was in Armenia and then in Russia, Ocalan resurfaced several days later at a Rome airport aboard an Aeroflot flight from Moscow in November. He had a false passport and no luggage and was accompanied by a leader of Italy's reformed Communists.
Italy put Ocalan under house arrest but refused to honor a Turkish warrant for his arrest. Germany, which had a long-standing warrant against Ocalan for the murder of three Kurdish activists, announced it would not ask for his extradition out of fear of sparking unrest between Turkish and Kurdish guest workers.
Ocalan abruptly left Rome one month ago (Jan. 16) in a renewed search for a safe haven. Initial reports said that he had traveled either to Russia or to Armenia and on to Azerbaijan's breakaway enclave of Nagorno Karabakh. Local authorities subsequently denied these reports.
Then early this month, Ocalan spent several days flying around Europe in a bid to force Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium or Italy to grant him asylum -- but in vain.
Greek diplomats said in Athens today their government had given Ocalan refuge in the Greek ambassador's residence in Nairobi, Kenya for 12 days "for humanitarian reasons". Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos says Ocalan decided, with his lawyers and the Kenyan authorities, and despite objections by Greek officials, to leave the residence and to go to the airport with the intention of flying to the Netherlands. Pangalos says that on the way to the airport, the car in which Ocalan was traveling "suddenly dropped out of the convoy" and disappeared.
In response to Greece's apparent failure to protect Ocalan, Kurdish activists overnight staged pro-Ocalan protests at more than a dozen Greek embassies and consulates across Europe. They occupied buildings and offices and in some cases took diplomats hostage. Kurdish protesters also occupied the Kenyan embassies in Bonn and Vienna.
Pangalos demanded the PKK leadership instruct its members and supporters to withdraw from the occupied Greek missions peacefully. In his words, "If, by midday (Athens and Ankara time/1100 Prague time), they have not left all Greek embassies and consulates, we will use every legal means to combat this organization (the PKK) in Greece and elsewhere".
Greek government spokesman Dhimitrios Reppas condemned the occupations and hostage taking as "acts that are hostile to Greece." In his words, "such violent and barbaric acts" run counter to "the struggle for human rights" and are, as he puts it, "not fit to be carried out by people who claim they are fighting for their rights".
The president of the Kurdish parliament in exile has called for an end to the occupations of all Greek embassies and consulates.
Meanwhile, Ocalan's lawyer in Germany, Eberhardt Schultz, today accused the Kenyan authorities of having lured the PKK leader into a trap and abducting him, in what he terms "a fundamental breach of human rights" and "a political and humanitarian catastrophe."
In Brussels, the PKK's political wing says it fears for Ocalan's safety in Turkish custody. A spokesman, Mizgin Sen, told reporters "we are afraid for his life -- we don't expect any fair treatment". He alleges that on several occasions, Kurds have been killed in Turkish jails with the authorities calling it suicide.