Turkish fugitive loses Belgian appeal

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BRUSSELS, Sep 18 (Reuters) Belgium's Supreme Court ruled today that a fugitive Turkish militant can be tried in Belgium for crimes she is accused of committing in Turkey if she is caught, a lawyer involved in the case said.

Ankara has been seeking the extradition of Fehriye Erdal to stand trial in Turkey for her alleged part in the murder of prominent businessman Ozdemir Sabanci and two other people in January 1996.

A Belgian court initially ruled she could not stand trial for Turkish offences in Belgium, but a higher court decided in March she could be tried for her part in murder in accordance with the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

The Supreme Court upheld the latter ruling today, according to Fernand Schmitz, a Belgian lawyer representing Sabanci's son. An investigating judge will first need to assess whether the case against her is strong enough for a trial.

''The decision remains in full force. We have been discussing this for seven years ... My work now really begins,'' he said.

Schmitz said Erdal played a major role in the assassination of Sabanci as she had been hired by subcontractors at his office and secured access for the killers.

Erdal's lawyers said they were not yet aware of the Supreme Court's decision.

Erdal was arrested in Belgium in 1999 but Belgium refused to extradite her to Turkey because she could have faced the death penalty.

She was held for possession of weapons and convicted with six others for belonging to the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front and sentenced to four years in jail.

However, she escaped police surveillance before her conviction and remains on the run, her whereabouts unknown.

REUTERS SR BD2232

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