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Western Press Review: Commentators Scrutinize Ocalan Affair

By Don Hill and Aurora Gallego

Prague, 17 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Kurdish faction leader Abdullah Ocalan's arrest and the worldwide Kurdish reaction that followed command major attention from Western European commentators. The U.S. press, preoccupied with domestic issues, carries a smattering of comment. Demonstrating Romanian miners also draw European commentary.

NEW YORK TIMES: Both sides now need to behave more constructively

The New York Times notes that Ocalan has waged what The Times' editorial calls "a brutal armed campaign" and that Turkey has behaved abominably toward "defenseless Kurdish villages." The editorial says that "both sides now need to behave more constructively and responsibly."

The editorial concludes: "Turkey must explain more fully the circumstances of Ocalan's abduction and assure that his detention and trial meet international standards of fairness. Ankara has not always met such standards in the past. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, a lifelong human rights advocate, now has an opportunity to put his beliefs into practice. Turkey should also use the occasion of Ocalan's arrest to rein in its counterinsurgency campaign in Kurdish areas and move toward a conciliatory and peaceful solution of the long conflict. The Kurds, including Ocalan's followers in Europe, must do their part by turning decisively away from violence, both in Turkey and abroad."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The legal process against Ocalan must be carried out properly

Britain's Financial Times says in an editorial that turning away from violence decidedly wasn't what occurred immediately after Ocalan's arrest. The newspaper expresses pessimism about the Kurd leader's chances for a fair trial. It says: "Mr. Ocalan is not a nice man," adding, "But his fellow Kurds have a genuine grievance."

The newspaper says: "Now the Turkish government has got what it wants." It goes on: "It is essential that the legal process against him is carried out properly, and in complete openness. There are genuine doubts in the EU about Turkey's capacity to offer him a fair trail, given the public fury against him."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: In reality the trouble is just starting

Commentator Wolfgang Koydl, writes ironically from Istanbul in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, under the headline, "Ankara's Hollow Victory." He writes: "Ach, how good it must feel. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit had trouble hiding his deep satisfaction as he announced that 'public enemy number one,' the 'terrorist leader' and 'child murderer' Abdullah Ocalan had been captured and brought home to Turkey. A triumph for the Turkish nation, a victory for Turkish armed might, and a resounding success for Turkish diplomacy. No difficult deals or compromises had to be made with the West. Ocalan is locked up for good and sitting in a Turkish jail. Thank God it is now all over."

But, writes Koydl: "In reality the trouble is just starting, kicking off with the political security question. The Kurdish Workers Party leader may be in custody but [Ocalan's] followers are still free -- in the mountains of eastern Turkey, in the large cities of western Turkey, and all over Europe."

LIBERATION: Many question the credibility of the legal procedure

Writing in an analysis in the French daily Liberation, Ragip Duran foresees little hope for fairness for Ocalan. He writes: "Many in Turkey question the credibility of the legal procedure likely to be a very political one. Professor Slan Gunduz, former representative of the Turkish government at the European Court of Human Rights, warns, 'The entire world is observing us. Turkey is a state based on a legal system. We should do everything possible so that Ocalan gets a fair and equitable process.' Human right defenders are on their part pessimistic, since the situation continues to deteriorate. The International Federation of the Leagues of Human Rights stresses that the extra-judicial capture of the Kurdish leader in Kenya can only make us worry about what will happen to him next.'"

LIBERATION: This is a unique chance to end a barbarian conflict

Another French commentary, by Jacques Amalric, also in Liberation, calls for U.S. and EU intervention in seeking a political solution to Turkey's Kurd problem. Amalric writes: "The alternative is simple. Either the Turkish leadership decides that they won the war and so are forced to continue the war, or, congratulating themselves for their victory, they finally will begin to search for a political solution to a problem which can only be solved through radical decentralization."

The writer says that the United States could have a decisive role. He writes: "The same is true for the European Union. While demanding a fair and equitable trial for the PKK leader, it is imperative that the 15 EU member states join their efforts to make Turkey understand that such an opportunity for ending a barbarian conflict won't occur soon again."

GUARDIAN: The Turkish establishment should engage in revolutionary self-examination

An editorial in The Guardian, London, says the Ocalan arrest solves nothing. It says: "Over the 75 years of its existence, Kemalist Turkey has failed to achieve a ... fair relationship with its Kurdish minority." The Guardian concludes: "The Turkish political and military establishment should engage in some necessary and even revolutionary self-examination rather than assume that the problem Abdullah Ocalan and his PKK represent has been settled by his capture."

WASHINGTON POST: Turkey faces a somber choice

The Washington Post editorializes that Turkey now has a choice between further repression or a step toward justice. The newspaper in the U.S. capital says: "There lies the somber choice facing Turkey. It can submit Abdullah Ocalan to an accused traitor's likely security-code trial, rather than a civilian trial. The process might mock Western justice but would show the government wreaking stern vengeance. Or it can seize this moment to seek another way than toughness and repression to deal with a cancer that nearly 80 years of treatment in the mode of Kemal Ataturk have failed to reduce."

On Romania's marching miners, an analysis in the Frankfurter Rundschau says that the miners have found a martyr in union leader Miron Cozma; but France's Le Monde contends it is unlikely he can repeat his earlier successes in mobilizing huge numbers of miners and supporters.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The timing of Cozma's sentencing appears incongruous

Stephan Israel writes in the Frankfurt newspaper: "Romanian miners have found a martyr [in] their leader, Miron Cozma." Israel says: "In 1991 the miners reached Bucharest, stormed the seat of government and ousted Premier Petre Roman. In street battles with counter-demonstrators people were killed and injured."

The writer continues: "For the Jiu Valley miners [Cozma] is still the only man who can prevent further pit closures. The Romanian government took the opportunity provided by his last prison term to sack roughly half the original 40,000 miners in the bleak valley."

Israel says the timing of Cozma's sentencing to 18 years in prison appears incongruous: "It is only a few weeks since Cozma met Prime Minister Radu Vasile for confidential talks. The government showed readiness to compromise and the miners abandoned their march on the capital. [The miners'] aim is to ensure in the Romanian capital that the authorities revoke what miners see as a political verdict."

LE MONDE: The entire town is possessed by a strange agitation

Le Monde's commentary says: "The Ministry of Interior Affairs offered assurances that Miron Cozma [would be] arrested soon. His lawyer called the decision of the Supreme Court 'a political verdict.' Will the leader of the miners make a new attempt to mobilize [them] against the authorities? Local sources in Petrosani say he will be unable this time to unite many thousands of people as in January, but the entire town is possessed by a strange agitation."