BONN, Germany (AP) _ Germany's defense minister fired one of his top aides Monday amid an escalating scandal over the illicit delivery of 15 Leopard tanks to Turkey.

Revelations that the tanks were sent despite a ban by parliament's budget committee emerged last week after Germany suspended all arms aid to Turkey in protest over its crackdown on Kurdish separatists.

Pressure is building on Chancellor Helmut Kohl to force the resignation of Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg.

The affair is part of a larger outcry in Germany about allegations that NATO partner Turkey has violated the human rights of its minority Kurds. Germany has been one of Turkey's main arms suppliers, but it also is home to about 425,000 Turkish Kurds.

The criticism has strained relations with Turkey, which denies violating Kurds' rights and says it is acting reasonably against an attempt to split off its southeastern region as an independent state. About half of Turkey's 12 million Kurds live in the area, where fighting has escalated in recent weeks.

In a newspaper interview published Sunday, Turkish President Turgut Ozal accused Germany of interfering in other nations' affairs and said ''Hitler's Germany did the same thing.''

Dieter Vogel, Kohl's spokesman, said in a written statement Monday that the chancellor ''rejects the tone and contents'' of Ozal's remarks.

But the statement also took pains to stress that Germany recognized Turkey's needs as a NATO partner that shares a border with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. ''That's why the government carried out special arms assistance for Turkey in the past,'' it said.

Many German politicians had long been pushing for a general weapons embargo against Turkey over the Kurdish issue. In response, the budget committee voted in November to freeze money for the delivery of the 15 tanks.

But a German company responsible for refitting and delivering the tanks was apparently never told about the decision.

Stoltenberg said Wolfgang Ruppelt, No. 3 official at the Defense Ministry, had ''assumed responsibility'' for the shipment being made. He said Ruppelt, 60, would take early retirement.

Ruppelt was present when the committee froze 25 million marks ($13 million) for the tank shipment last year, Stoltenberg said. He said it was Ruppelt's responsiblity to make sure the committee's decision was carried out.

Stoltenberg called the failure to do so ''a mistake,'' but refused to give further details about how the decision was ignored.