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Turkey: U.S. Says Ocalan Case Could Spark Dialogue

Washington, 30 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says the trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan could provide an opportunity for Turkey to enter into a dialogue with its Kurdish minority aimed at resolving outstanding disputes.

State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters yesterday that the United States does not believe a military solution is possible to Turkey's Kurdish problem. He said expansion of human rights and democracy -- embracing all Turkish citizens -- is the key.

The United States considers Ocalan an international terrorist and does not support his organization's armed struggle to carve an independent Kurdish nation out of Turkey, a key NATO ally. However, U.S. officials have privately expressed understanding for some of the causes championed by the Kurdish minority, particularly in the areas of language and cultural rights.

Earlier yesterday, a Turkish court sentenced Ocalan to death by hanging for leading a 14-year separatist campaign in which more than 29,000 people were killed. The verdict triggered angry Kurdish protests in many cities around the world.

Rubin spoke to reporters about what happens next to Ocalan:

"Although the trial is over, the case is not closed. We understand that the judgment is automatically appealed in the Turkish system. It could also be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey has assumed obligations under international and European human rights instruments to ensure that a defendant receives a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal and has adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense."

Rubin said the Ocalan trial was conducted in an orderly manner but declined to label it "fair."

Pointedly, the State Department spokesman did not directly call on the Turkish government to spare Ocalan's life. But he noted that in all such cases, a death sentence has to be confirmed by a parliamentary vote and then approved by the president of Turkey.

Rubin also said U.S. embassies have been alerted of possible trouble in advance of the Ocalan verdict. There have been press reports, denied by the United States, that U.S. intelligence helped Turkey in his capture of Ocalan. James Rubin said:

"The department sent a cable to all U.S. diplomatic posts last week advising them to review their security situation in advance of the upcoming Ocalan verdict and take additional security precautions where necessary. Our diplomatic missions in Europe have been operating at a heightened state of alert since Ocalan's arrest. They continue to operate at this level."

Commenting on resolving the Kurdish problem, Rubin said:

"We do not believe there is a purely military solution to Kurdish issues in Turkey. The vast majority of Kurds in Turkey do not support the use of violence. Any enduring solution lies in the expansion of democracy, including full democratic political participation by all of Turkey's citizens and protection of their human rights."