By Paul Wood in Athens The Greek Government said on Friday it would guarantee political asylum and protection for two female bodyguards of the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
The announcement is likely to anger Turkey and was another sign that, try as it might, Greece is unable to draw a line under the Ocalan affair, widely seen here as a national humiliation, which has already claimed the resignations of three Cabinet ministers.
The two women and another female bodyguard with a Belgian passport were removed from the Greek diplomatic compound in Nairobi, Kenya, in an operation personally led by the secretary-general of the Greek Foreign Service.
However, their arrival in Athens promised fresh embarrassment for the government. Along with a Greek intelligence officer, Savvas Kalenderidis, who was sent to Nairobi to protect Mr Ocalan, they are claiming that the PKK leader was misled by the Greek Government and forced against his will to leave the safety of the embassy compound.
This contradicts the official version of events, which is that Mr Ocalan fell into Turkish hands after deciding against Greek Government advice to embark on negotiations with the Kenyans and leave the compound for the airport.
The extent of official help for the PKK leader and his organisation is at the heart of a growing row between Athens and Ankara. Turkey says the Greek Government organised training camps for PKK rebels and that it supplied ground to air missiles for use against the Turkish security forces.
Turkey uses advantage
Turkey says the allegations are based on statements made by Mr Ocalan during his interrogation by the state prosecutor. The Turkish Government is making use of the claims in an attempt to have Greece labelled as a state sponsoring terrorism – pressing home the advantage it secured by snatching the PKK leader from under the noses of the Greek security services.
It has also been claimed that the Greek Orthodox Church funded Kurdish rebels – a claim denied to the BBC by the head of the Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, who said that food had been supplied to Kurdish refugees, and nothing more.
The allegations of training camps for the PKK in Greece and arms supply by the Greek Government are not new. They have been regularly made in the past by Ankara and always denied by Athens.
Western diplomats don’t give them much credence, saying the Greek Government wouldn’t want another row with Turkey added to existing disputes over Cyprus and the Aegean, raising tensions and threatening a crisis which might deflect the country from the goal of joining the single European currency. Diplomats say that is why Prime Minister Costas Simitis was so keen to get rid of Mr Ocalan once his plane landed on Greek soil.
However, Mr Ocalan was brought to Greece despite the desperate wish of the government not to get embroiled in the problem of securing his asylum in Europe. It was done by a shadowy group of Greek nationalists, sympathetic to the Kurds, hostile to Turkey, possessing high-level links with the Greek security services.
The outgoing Greek interior minister – who had to resign over the Ocalan affair – pointedly referred to the security services as an autonomous state agency. If the allegations of an official Greek policy to help the Kurdish armed struggle are not be believed, many here are wondering if committed individuals, or even officials, might be implicated in the kind of support for the Kurdish cause which Ankara is claiming.