Ocalan denies role in key rebel actions, Palme assassination
June 1, 1999
IMRALI ISLAND, Turkey (CNN) -- Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan Tuesday accepted responsibility for plunging Turkey into 15 years of guerrilla war, but denied ordering the most high-profile acts blamed on his movement, state-run media reported.
Turkey's Anatolian news agency quoted Ocalan as telling the court trying his case on the prison island of Imrali that he had dominated the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla organization until Turkish agents captured him in February.
He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of treason.
"Primary responsibility for the organization is mine. Rather, it was until the moment I was arrested ... Responsibility for the organization's actions and activities is in the first degree mine," he was quoted as saying.
However, as Ocalan's trial entered its second day, he rejected responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks blamed on the PKK and also denied having a role in the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.
Ocalan is charged with orchestrating an armed separatist campaign among the mostly Kurdish minority in southeast Turkey in which 37,000 people have been killed, mostly Kurds.
TRT, Turkey's state-run television network, quoted Ocalan as testifying that he did not order a 1993 attack that killed 33 soldiers in Turkey's southeastern Bingol province. The slaughter shattered the rebel's unilateral cease-fire and led the military to intensify a campaign aimed at annihilating the guerrilla group.
As part of that campaign, soldiers have burned thousands of villages, leaving large swaths of the southeast abandoned, a tactic aimed at denying the rebels local support, human rights groups have said.
Ocalan said the assault was carried out by renegade guerrillas acting independently, the television report said. In the 139-page indictment against Ocalan, he is accused of ordering the killings.
Ocalan also denied that his group killed Palme, TRT reported, but said rebels that had broken away from his group may have had a hand in the assassination.
"This is a conspiracy that has been placed on my shoulders," the Anatolian news agency quoted him as telling the court from the bulletproof glass box where he is observing the trial.
"I have received information that PKK Rejin killed Palme," Ocalan said, adding that his former wife and her new husband were behind the rival group, mainly based in Europe.
"Kesire Yildirim and Huseyin Yildirim founded this organization and wanted to develop it," he said.
Ocalan's ex-wife, Kesire, lived in Sweden for several years in the early 1980s, but never succeeded in getting a visa for him, and he never went to Sweden.
Palme, whose government had declared Ocalan's group a terrorist organization, was gunned down on a Stockholm street in a crime that shocked the normally tranquil Scandinavian country. The case remains unsolved.
Ocalan also rejected accusations that he had ordered bomb attacks on Turkish tourist sites in the early 1990s, which killed and injured several visitors, TRT said.
Asked about alleged overseas help, the rebel chief said his group received training in camps in Greece, Yugoslavia and Iran, Anatolian said.
Ocalan said Greece, Turkey's traditional rival, also provided his fighters with weapons.
Greece has repeatedly denied allegations that Kurdish rebels were trained in that country.
Anatolian and TRT are the only media allowed unrestricted access to the trial. A limited number of other Turkish and outside media present are not allowed to report the day's proceedings until the end of each session.
Ocalan surprised the Turkish court at the opening of his trial Monday by ordering his fighters to end their struggle and threatening massive bloodshed if he is hanged.
He was quoted Tuesday as telling the court that he made the offer to secure a PKK surrender in return for his life out of a genuine desire for peace, and not fear of the gallows.
"This was not out of fear," he said.
In Brussels, a spokeswoman for the group said it was premature to comment on Ocalan's statements.
It is unclear how much control Ocalan retains over the movement he founded to seek self-rule for Turkey's Kurdish provinces.
Hours after Ocalan declared that "armed clashes should immediately cease," rebels armed with automatic rifles attacked a paramilitary police outpost in Van province, killing one soldier and wounding three, Anatolian said.
In a separate attack Monday, PKK guerrillas detonated a remote-control bomb as a Turkish armored vehicle passed over it, killing three soldiers and badly injuring three others, a military source in the eastern Tunceli province told Reuters.
"Of course the big question is whether the PKK would actually listen to him," Turkish commentator Mehmet Ali Birand said. "They may not call him a traitor now, but sooner or later it will come."
Ocalan's testimony appeared designed to distance himself from the most brutal attacks attributed to his fighters.
There is widespread support in Turkey for executing Ocalan, who is regarded by most Turks as responsible for all the suffering caused by the guerrilla war. Many refer to him as a "bloody terrorist" and "baby killer."
When Ocalan on Tuesday repeated his apology for the deaths of Turkish soldiers, relatives of the war dead silently raised pictures of their loved ones.
"You took 25,000 lives from me!" Ocalan shot back.
Turkish newspapers expressed outrage Tuesday at Ocalan's begging and bargaining.
"It's too late," declared a headline in the daily Zaman newspaper. "Traitor and coward," said the daily Aksam; "Apology and threat!" said the daily Turkiye.
At the start of the trial, Kurds protested in Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland and Denmark. There were no reports of violence.
The trial is taking place before a State Security Court. Such courts have been sharply criticized by human rights organizations for bias, because the three-member panel includes a military judge.
In Rome on Tuesday, the leader of Italy's largest party told Turkey it would lose all hope of joining the European Union if the court sentenced Ocalan to death.
The Democrats of the Left leader, Walter Veltroni, said he would ask socialist party leaders in the EU to formalize the warning at a congress on Wednesday.
Italy has strongly supported Turkey's bid to join the 15-nation European bloc.
The two countries have fallen out over Ocalan, with Italy enraging Turkey with its earlier refusal to extradite the rebel leader. Italians, who oppose the death penalty, feared they would turn him over for trial only to see him executed.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Ocalan trial resumes in Turkey
The Ocalan Trial
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