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World - Europe

Italy denies Kurdish rebel is back

Graphicq January 31, 1999
Web posted at: 10:35 a.m. EST (1535 GMT)

ROME (CNN) -- The Italian government denied Sunday a Turkish claim that fugitive Kurdish rebel Abdullah Ocalan had returned to Italy two weeks after leaving the country.

Ocalan's presence in Italy -- from November through mid-January -- had spurred an unofficial boycott of Italian goods in Turkey.

"According to an information from a very reliable source in Italy, he should have arrived in Italy by now," Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said. "But we don't know yet whether he went there to stay or to proceed to another country."

Italian government sources said Sunday that Ocalan not only is not in Italy, there is no chance that he could return.

Ocalan, arrested on arrival in November, left Rome in mid-January after Italian officials refused to extradite him to Turkey to face charges of terrorism. Italian law does not allow extradition of a suspect to countries that have the death penalty, such as Turkey.

Ocalan's whereabouts after he left Italy were not known, although there were reports that he had been tracked to South Africa, Russia, Lebanon and Kuwait, among other countries.

Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged a guerrilla war against Turkey since 1984, seeking autonomy for the Kurdish region in the southeast. Some 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict, including 10 PKK rebels and three Turkish soldiers who died over the weekend in separate clashes in Turkey.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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