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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkey Warns of Split Over Kurdish Rebel

Turkey has warned Russia that diplomatic relations could be seriously impaired or even broken off altogether if Moscow were to grant asylum to Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The Turkish ambassador in Russia, Nabi Sensoy, said Sunday that Moscow should stress again that Ocalan, Ankara's "public enemy No. 1," is not in Russia and will be immediately extradited if he does turn up on Russian soil, Interfax reported.

"Moscow has no reasons for seriously complicating Russian-Turkish relations or terminating them completely for the sake of giving asylum to such a person," Sensoy was quoted as saying.

Ocalan appealed to Russia last week for political asylum, and the State Duma, Russian parliament's lower house, voted overwhelmingly in favor of calling on the Kremlin to approve the request.

But government ministers have given assurances that Ocalan would not be allowed to stay in Russia.

Sensoy said the Duma's move was "absolutely not in line with the current level of relations."

"Turkey and the Turkish people do not deserve such treatment and we hope that the Duma will reverse its position shortly," Sensoy was quoted as saying.

Turkey regards Ocalan and his Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, as terrorists. The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since 1984. As many as 37,000 people have died in clashes between the guerrillas and Turkish security forces.

Ocalan's whereabouts are unclear. Turkey has said he recently left Syria and was hiding in a Moscow suburb, but Russian officials have said they do not know where he was but that he was not in Moscow.

The United States has asked Russia to investigate whether the rebel leader is in Russia and to expel him if he is there. "No nation should give sanction to terrorists,''State Department spokesman James Rubin said Thursday.

Some 15,000 Turkish troops, backed by armored vehicles and supported by Iraqi Kurd militia forces, were pursuing PKK guerrillas Monday in northern Iraq, officials said.

Turkey's defense minister said Sunday the operation was aimed to destroy a group of 400 to 500 PKK separatists who had fled to the mountain enclave from neighboring Syria.

Damascus last month yielded to Turkish threats of military force and agreed not to allow the PKK to use Syria as a base for its armed campaign for self-rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast. Syria denies aiding the rebels.