Ocalan's Greek comedy of errors

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The Independent Online
THE GREEK Prime minister, Costas Simitis, was at a social occasion when a colleague came to whisper the urgent message that Abdullah Ocalan had been smuggled into the country, according to the gossip among Athens diplomats.

The messenger was sympathetic to the Kurdish cause and wanted to know what Greece could do to help. Mr Simitis "nearly fainted with shock", one onlooker said. The anguished Prime Minister reportedly declared: "Don't do this to me!" before ordering that Mr Ocalan be removed as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Before finally falling into Turkish hands, Mr Ocalan's search for political asylum saw him in Moscow, Rome, Minsk, Belarus, Athens and Corfu; and St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. He had tried also without success to go to Paris, Bonn, Oslo, Stockholm, Bern, the Netherlands and Kiev.

Greece's effort to find him a haven began with a private citizen, Andonis Naxakis, a retired Greek naval officer with ties to the Kurdish rebels. Mr Naxakis arranged for Mr Ocalan to fly from St Petersburg to Athens on 29 January on a private plane.

Greek intelligence agents then took over and, according to some reports, acting on the Prime Minister's orders, they put Mr Ocalan back on the aircraft on 1 February, and it took off for Rotterdam.

Mr Ocalan thought he could arrive at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and argue the Kurdish cause. But he never landed. The Dutch turned his aircraft away, and it went back to Greece, landing on the island of Corfu.

Greek Foreign Ministry officials then took charge and sent Mr Ocalan to a Greek embassy property in Nairobi, where he could seek safe haven in a third African country. What is known of the story of how Mr Ocalan was captured in Kenya sometimes reads like the plot of a bad spy novel. The first error made by the Greek security and foreign services supposedly looking after the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) leader was to send him to the Kenyan capital, where the United States has maintained a intelligence presence ever since its embassy was bombed.

Diplomats say Mr Ocalan was detected by an American listening post because he used his mobile phone. Negotiations between Mr Ocalan and government ministers in Athens were also said to have taken place on an open telephone line, with the Turkish security services listening in.

Mr Ocalan reportedly demanded a false passport, money and an aircraft to take him to the Netherlands for another try at the international court. He appealed again for asylum in Italy, France, Greece or Russia, or even a trial in Germany.

It was during these negotiations last weekend that he lost patience and took the path which led to his downfall. He said he would start his own negotiations with the Kenyans.

"He was used to giving the orders and wouldn't take any from us," said the Greek Foreign Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, who was sacked on Thursday. "He rejected our advice and started talking."

Mr Ocalan left the Greek embassy for the airport, followed by the Greek ambassador. Both thought the waiting aircraft would take Mr Ocalan to the Netherlands. Then Mr Ocalan's car "peeled off down a side street" - a result of Turkish infiltration of the scheme. Turkish commandos had flown into Nairobi for a mission code-named Safari and they bagged their big game - inflicting humiliation on the ancient foe, Greece, into the bargain.