PKK's Ocalan says open to democratic solution-agency

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ISTANBUL, Nov 2 (Reuters) Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan was reported today as saying he was open toa democratic solution to the 23-year-old conflict between theTurkish military and his guerrilla group.

Ankara has threatened a major cross-border operation intonorthern Iraq to fight some 3,000 rebels of Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) unless US and Iraqi authorities fulfilpledges to crack down on them.

Firat news agency, which has close links to the PKK, quoted Ocalan as saying he was saddened by the recent deaths in clashes between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces.

''We are in a critical process,'' Ocalan said in a statement made to his lawyers who visited him this week for the first timein a month in his island prison at Imrali, south of Istanbul, where he has been held since his 1999 capture and conviction.

''I am making a request to (Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip) Mr Erdogan. The PKK will not end, you are making a mistake. Propose a way out, we are open to any kind of democratic solution,'' Ocalan was reported as saying.

The United States and European Union, like Turkey, list the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Ocalan is reviled by most Turks and is held responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.

''There are clashes. Really I am sad about the soldiers' deaths as well. I am not happy about this,'' he said in his first comments on the recent escalation of violence.

Turkey has sent up to 100,000 troops to the Iraqi border, backed by tanks, artillery and aircraft. But Iraq and the United States have urged Ankara to refrain from a major operation,fearing this could destabilise the wider region.

Previous Turkish military operations in northern Iraq failed to dislodge the PKK militants.

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