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Germany rejects Turkey's assertion that Berlin backs militant groups

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday rejected an accusation by his Turkish counterpart that Germany backs the Kurdish militant group PKK, saying such organizations were banned in Germany.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier waits to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Berlin on Tuesday of allowing the PKK and far-leftist DHKP-C, both of which have carried out armed attacks in Turkey, to operate on German soil with impunity.

“The PKK and other extremist parties are banned as terrorist groups here. They are criminally prosecuted,” Steinmeier said. “That is why I cannot understand the comments made about Germany today in Turkey. Repeating the claims does not make them right.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Germany had become “an important haven for terrorists” such as the PKK and DHKP-C, and would be “judged by history” for failing to extradite supporters of a U.S.-based cleric blamed by Ankara for the failed July 15 military coup.

The comments reflect ongoing German-Turkish tensions over numerous issues, including Turkey’s post-coup crackdown on dissent and the German parliament’s vote in June labeling the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide.

In its annual report, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said it was actively monitoring the activities of an estimated 14,000 PKK supporters in Germany, 650 people associated with the DHKP-C, and more than 2,000 people associated with other leftist or communist groups that are also banned.

A spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry said the Yekineyen Parastina Gel (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish militia, was covered by the German ban on the PKK.

She said German security agencies estimated that over 100 people had left Germany to participate in fighting against Islamic State militants near the Syrian-Iraqi border, but it was unclear whether these people were fighting for the YPG or PKK.

The German daily Die Welt, citing security sources, said a total of about 130 militants of German nationality including were known to have fought with the YPG in northern Syria.

But it said German federal prosecutors were not actively investigating YPG backers who had returned from Syria and had not asked the German Justice Ministry for permission to do so.

However, German state prosecutors were looking into filing possible charges related to war crimes or murder against two YPG members. No further details were given.

Die Welt quoted judicial sources as saying that it had been seen as politically inopportune to investigate YPG backers since the Kurdish group is a close ally of the United States and other Western nations in its fight against Islamic State.

No comment was immediately available from the Justice Ministry or federal prosecutors’ office.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Mark Heinrich