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World - Middle East

Ocalan On Trial

Kurdish leader Ocalan apologizes during trial

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan sits behind bulletproof and bombproof glass in courtroom

Pain of Kurd conflict invades Turk seaside town


May 31, 1999
Web posted at: 5:33 a.m. EDT (0933 GMT)

In this story:

Ocalan's arrest spurred riots, immolation

Retaliation threatened if Ocalan executed

Sharply different views on Ocalan's fate

Rebels kill village guards


MUDANYA, Turkey (CNN) -- Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, on trial for his life, apologized on Monday to families of soldiers killed by his separatist guerrillas and said he would work for peace if the court spared his life.

Turkish Television showed Ocalan, dressed in a brown shirt and grey suit, speaking from a bullet-proof glass box on the first day of his trial for treason on Imrali prison island. His voice was steady and he betrayed no signs of nervousness.

Ocalan on Trial

The Turkish public had last seen him after his spectacular capture by special forces in Kenya three months ago, when he was paraded, handcuffed, before the red Turkish flag. He looked thinner on Monday, but alert and well.

"I share the pain of those families of martyrs," Ocalan said of the mothers of Turkish soldiers killed in the conflict.

"I am sorry."

The trial opened as riot police patrolled the streets, and Ocalan entered the courthouse -- a converted cinema on the heavily-guarded prison island of Imrali.

Ocalan has been charged with treason and he is widely expected to be convicted, and sentenced to death.

Authorities imposed extreme security measures around the trial to frustrate possible attacks.

Warships patrol the coast near Imrali and police helicopters are flying over the beach in Mudanya, the nearest port to the island.

Police set up roadblocks outside Mudanya to check the identity cards of anyone trying to enter the town.

Lawyers and journalists approved to attend the trial were fingerprinted Sunday and had their retinas scanned for identification. They have been told to wear no jewelry to the trial, including wedding rings. Journalists were given notebooks and pens once they arrived on the island, where Ocalan is the only prisoner.

Ocalan's arrest spurred riots, immolation

Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, was captured by Turkish commandos on February 15 in Nairobi, Kenya.

He had been hidden by Greek diplomats in Kenya after trying for months to find a country willing to grant him asylum.

His seizure outraged expatriate Kurds and their supporters, who staged violent protests in Europe and elsewhere after his capture, in some cases seizing hostages or setting themselves on fire.

Ocalan's guerrillas staged several attacks in Turkey following his capture, leaving more than a dozen people dead.

Retaliation threatened if Ocalan executed

For 15 years, Ocalan's guerrillas battled Turkish soldiers in the barren mountains of southeastern Turkey, fighting first for a homeland, or at least autonomy, for the Kurdish people.

Ocalan formed the PKK in 1978, demanding autonomy in the late 1980s for the predominantly Kurdish southeast. In those battles, 37,000 people, mostly Kurds, died.

That demand and Ocalan's later calls for a negotiated solution to the fight were rejected by Turkey.

Turkey regards any expression of Kurdish nationalism as a direct threat to the existence of the state. Broadcasts in the Kurdish language are illegal in Turkey and Kurdish activists are closely monitored.

Kurdish guerrillas re-elected Ocalan as their president after his capture. The rebel group appears to be led now by a collective leadership that has repeated Ocalan's call for a negotiated end to the conflict.

"This historical chance offered by our president must be responded to positively," the PKK presidency council said in a statement last week.

The council has threatened to retaliate if Ocalan is executed.

Sharply different views on Ocalan's fate

There is overwhelming support in Turkey for sentencing Ocalan to death on charges that he "seriously endangered the...indivisible unity of the Turkish republic."

But in Europe, the three-member tribunal that will determine Ocalan's fate has been sharply criticized for bias because it includes a military judge.

Turkey's new coalition government has said it is willing to dismiss the military officer from the panel. There has been media speculation in Turkey that the trial may be adjourned after Monday's session to give the government time to change the composition of the courts and get rid of the military judge. Or the judge could withdraw from the case, officials have said. The judge's replacement, who is already on the prison island, is a civilian.

Rebels kill village guards

On Sunday, the rebels killed three government-appointed village guards in an attack in the southern town of Iskenderun.

The guards were employed to protect a group of civil servants, the Anatolia news agency reported. Four other guards were injured in the attack.

Ocalan's role remains somewhat enigmatic.

Ocalan himself reportedly knows little Kurdish and speaks to his rebels in Turkish. There are many dialects of Kurdish and many Kurds use Turkish when communicating with Kurds from different areas. It is also not uncommon for young, educated Kurds to speak in Turkish and not Kurdish, which is popular in poor, rural areas.

Ocalan has at times generated fear, even among those once close to him.

Ocalan's wife, Kesire, accused him of creating an atmosphere of terror within the Kurdish group and said that senior rebels were denied the right to speak openly.

She went into hiding after Ocalan sentenced her and other rivals to death in 1988.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Turkey marks eve of Ocalan trial with security clampdown
May 30, 1999
Ocalan lawyers hope trial delay betters conditions
May 29, 1999
Report: Ocalan lawyer charged with aiding PKK
May 25, 1999
Trial date set for Kurdish rebel leader Ocalan
April 30, 1999
Turkish prosecutors to seek death penalty for Ocalan
April 28, 1999
Ocalan to base defense on request for cease-fire
March 18, 1999

TIME Daily: Ocalan, Turkey and the Kurds
Kurdistan Workers Party Information
The Republic of Turkey
President of the Turkish Republic
The Center for Kurdish Political Studies
Terrorist acts by the PKK
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