Russian Minister Says No Asylum for Ocalan

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin as saying on Thursday that Moscow would not grant asylum to Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan despite an appeal from the Russian parliament.

The State Duma lower house on Wednesday urged President Boris Yeltsin to accept Ocalan’s request for political asylum.

The Duma’s backing for Ocalan angered Turkey–which regards him and his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as terrorists.

"I know what President Boris Yeltsin thinks of this. No terrorist will be granted political asylum," Interfax quoted Stepashin as saying during an official visit to the French city of Strasbourg.

He said the Duma–dominated by Yeltsin’s Communist and nationalist opponents–had been motivated by purely political considerations ahead of next year’s parliamentary election and the presidential poll due in 2000.

"The approaching elections…compel some politicians to score points by such actions," he was quoted as saying.

Stepashin repeated previous Russian assertions that Ocalan was not in hiding in Moscow and added that he did not know where the Kurdish leader was currently staying.

Ocalan–whose organization is fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey–has reportedly been on the run since Turkey put pressure on Syria last month to expel him. Damascus denies that it ever sheltered Ocalan.

Ankara says Ocalan–also known as Apo–has been in hiding in a Moscow suburb since fleeing Syria–but Russian security forces have drawn a blank in their search for him.

Earlier on Thursday Russia’s foreign ministry gave a non-committal response to parliament’s appeal to grant asylum to Ocalan–saying the government would look at the request.

"It will be reviewed according to established procedure," spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters. "There is a procedure for this established by the constitution."

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last week in Ankara about Ocalan. He said Russia had given him assurances that it would not allow Ocalan to operate from its soil.

Rakhmanin called for the Kurdish problem in Turkey to be resolved peacefully–preserving Turkish territorial integrity.

"Any violent methods–especially of a terrorist nature–are unacceptable," he said.

Some Turkish press reports have suggested that Ocalan may now be in Armenia–which has historically bad ties with Turkey–but Yerevan has denied this.

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