Turkey Warns Greece in Kurdish Rebel Case
By Amberin Zaman
ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 22 – Turkey threatened unspecified action against Greece today over its alleged role in harboring captured Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan as tensions sharpened between the two historically hostile Aegean neighbors.
In his first public remarks on the matter, the Anatolian news agency quoted Turkish President Suleyman Demirel as saying during an official visit to the Philippines that "we reserve the right to undertake all precautionary measures so long as Greece chooses to continue its illegal behavior."
In some of the toughest language used by any Turkish leader in recent years, Demirel added: "Greece should be added to the list of countries that support terrorism and harbor terrorists. A country like that can only be described as an outlaw state."
Relations between NATO members Turkey and Greece remain fraught over the divided island of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean Sea. But they took a sharp turn for the worse after it emerged that the leader of the separatist Kurdish rebel group known as the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) had spent 12 days at the Greek ambassador's residence in Nairobi prior to his capture on Feb. 15 by Turkish commandos. Turkish officials contend that Greek authorities flew Ocalan to Kenya from the Greek island of Corfu on Feb. 2.
They say Ocalan used a Cypriot passport to enter Kenya and was received at Nairobi airport by Greek Ambassador George Kostouloas, who slipped him in through diplomatic channels.
"The Greeks were caught red-handed," said Hasan Unal of Ankara's Bilkent University, an expert on Turkish-Greek relations. "And all this," Unal added, "might only be the tip of the iceberg. What really matters now is what Ocalan reveals about his Greek and Greek Cypriot connections during his interrogation."
Hurriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper with close establishment ties, reported today that Ocalan had already told prosecutors that the PKK had received "weapons, rockets and training" from Greece. "We expect the European Union to seriously examine the case of one of its members which has violently opposed the organization's charter, commitments and obligations," Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem told reporters Sunday.
In reply, Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitris Reppas accused Turkey of seeking to divert international opinion from what he termed its "human rights abuses."
According to Unal, Turkey will also lodge a complaint within NATO against Greece over its dealings with the Kurdish rebel chief. "Greece will have a hard time explaining precisely why it supported a terrorist organization against a fellow NATO member," he said.
Ocalan, who is being held in solitary confinement on a prison island near Istanbul, is expected to be charged formally with treason in a closed proceeding on Tuesday, Turkish officials said.
Treason is punishable by death in Turkey, although the country has not carried out the death penalty since 1984.
Since 1984, the PKK has waged a brutal secessionist campaign in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast that has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
Ocalan had been on the run since last October, when his longtime refuge, Syria, ordered him out of the country following Turkish military threats – thereby initiating his 129-day quest for sanctuary.
Four high Greek officials were forced to step down last week over their alleged role in the Ocalan affair. Greek press reports indicated that this was not so much because they had allegedly provided sanctuary for a man who is on Interpol's list of most wanted criminals, but rather because they had allowed Ocalan to be whisked away by Greece's historical foe. Angered by their perceived betrayal at the hands of Greek officials, the rebels last week declared that Greece had become their "enemy number one."
Turkish leaders, meanwhile, have expressed particular pleasure over the resignation of Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, whose incendiary remarks – he once described Turks as "thieves, cutthroats and sexual deviates" – had frequently provoked public outrage here.
Buoyed by what it views as a moral victory over Athens, Turkey is now likely to push demands that Greece scrap plans to deploy Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles on the island of Crete, analysts say.
Athens struck a deal with Moscow last week to take delivery of the missiles after the government of Cyprus, whose population is predominantly ethnic Greek, canceled the $450 million deal following Turkish military threats to destroy them.
Turkey has occupied the northern one-third of Cyprus with around 35,000 troops since the last Greek-Turkish war in 1974. Fearing a new armed clash over the divided island, Washington persuaded Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides to forgo installing the missiles.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company