July 19th, 2007 10:55 EST
Turkey protests to Austria for allowing wanted PKK rebel to fly to northern Iraq
Turkey's foreign minister on Thursday criticized Austria for allowing a wanted Kurdish rebel to fly to northern Iraq instead of being returned to Turkey and accused European allies of undermining the fight against terrorism.
Turkey on Wednesday summoned the Austrian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry where she was handed over a note formally protesting to Vienna for sending Ali Riza Altun to northern Iraq, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. Altun is allegedly in charge of the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK's finances in Europe.
Gul said Altun was on an Interpol wanted list and had been detained by Austrian authorities for traveling on a false ID.
"But still, he was placed on a plane and sent to Iraq," Gul told reporters.
"This is a grave error and unacceptable. We strongly protested this and asked for an explanation. This corrodes the foundations of international cooperation against terrorism."
Austria's justice ministry confirmed that Altun was taken into custody at Vienna's international airport on July 4 on suspicion of attempting to leave the country with a fake travel document.
He was released on July 13, after a justice ministry investigation showed that French authorities had granted him a type of asylum based on a belief that he would be persecuted if extradited to Turkey, a ministry statement said.
Altun, who had lived in France since 2000, left Austria for Iraq shortly after he was released, the statement also said.
Turkey has long complained of a lack of international cooperation in combatting the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.
It is pressing Iraq and the United States to prevent rebel attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The guerrillas have recently stepped up attacks in Turkey.
The military has massed troops on its border with Iraq and Turkish leaders are considering a military incursion into northern Iraq to root out the rebel bases.
On Thursday, Turkish officials invited Iraq's ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and asked that Altun be arrested and swiftly extradited to Turkey, a ministry official said. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Gul said U.S. authorities had opened an investigation following Turkish complaints that U.S. weapons were ending up in the hands of the rebels.
The weapons appeared to be part of an arsenal that the U.S. had given the Iraqi army, Gul said.
"We have been told that there are incidents of corruption in which U.S. soldiers were involved and that action is being taken against them," Gul said, but did not elaborate.
Associated Press Writer Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report.
Source:The Associated Press