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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Vow Manhunt for Ocalan

A Chechen warlord said Friday that special commandos in his army were preparing to scour the former Soviet Union for a Kurdish rebel leader wanted by Turkey, Interfax reported.

Salman Raduyev, who played a prominent role in Chechnya's independence war with Russia, said in a statement Friday that a nationalist group in Turkey had asked him to hunt down Abdullah Ocalan, who leads the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the news agency reported.

The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey for 14 years. More than 35,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Ocalan recently fled Italy after the government refused him asylum. Turkey wants to arrest Ocalan, whose whereabouts are now unknown, and try him as a terrorist.

Raduyev said he planned to start looking for Ocalan in Nagorny Karabakh, a separatist enclave inside the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan that is populated largely by ethnic Armenians. Ocalan has been rumored to be hiding in the region.

Ocalan's case drew increased international attention after he was arrested in Rome on Nov. 12 upon his arrival on a flight from Moscow and Turkey began pressuring for his extradition.

Italy refused to hand him over to Turkey, citing laws that bar extradition to countries where a suspect may face a death sentence. The Italian government tried to give Ocalan to Germany, whichhad put out the warrant for his arrest but then refused to accept him, fearing widespread protests by its own ethnic Kurd community.

After Italy followed Russia's suit and denied him political asylum, Ocalan left Italy earlier this month.

His whereabouts since then have remained a well-kept secret, but he has frequently been reported to be in Russia or other former Soviet republics. PKK representatives in Moscow have said Ocalan flew over Russian territory and Russian authorities agreed to provide a flight path for his plane.

The Marxist PKK enjoyed warm, but secret relations with the Soviet government, and Turkish officials claim Moscow has continued to maintain these ties after the the Soviet Union's collapse.

Turkish analysts have warned that Russia's reported support for the PKK could prompt Turkey to retaliate by supporting secessionist Moslem elements in Russia's troubled North Caucasus region, including Chechnya.

During the 1994-96 Chechen war, Russian authorities accused Turkey of backing separatist Chechen rebels.

Raduyev said that the Gray Wolves, a Turkish nationalist organization that is the staunchest opponent to the Kurdish cause in Turkey, had asked him to find Ocalan.

"The banditry of Ocalan and the PKK has nothing to do with national liberation, but is inspired by Russian secret services," Raduyev was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Raduyev has been a thorn in the side of both Russian and Chechen authorities since the war. He has claimed responsibility for bombings across Russia and demands that Moscow officially recognize Chechnya's independence.