Kurd rebels say open to talks, may give up arms

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TUNCELI, Turkey, Nov 9 (Reuters) The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose bases in north Iraq Turkey has threatened to attack, today said it was open to a dialogue that could lead to its downing arms, a news agency close to the rebels reported.

Turkey, like the United States and the European Union, condemns the PKK as a terrorist group and has always refused to talk to PKK guerrillas. It had no immediate response to the party's statement, carried by the Firat news agency.

''We are open to dialogue on starting a process that would totally exclude weapons, based on a political project,'' the PKK statement said.

It said that unilateral ceasefires the party had announced in the past had failed to halt the conflict, emphasising the importance of a political solution.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this week after talks with US President George W. Bush that the army would go ahead with an incursion against PKK militants in Iraq, but did not say when.

The armed forces chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, today said the military was ready and waiting for the government to order the cross-border operation, according to the newspaper Milliyet's Web site.

''A short time after our units are given a task they will be able to carry it out. That is the point at which we are. We are now waiting for the order that will come from the government,'' Milliyet quoted Buyukanit as saying.

Turkey has stationed some 100,000 troops on the Iraq border and threatened to launch an offensive against some 3,000 rebels who use northern Iraq as a base for attacks in Turkey, if nothing is done to curb their activities.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey. Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The PKK statement said that a Turkish cross-border operation would only be an attempt to affect the status of oil-rich and multi-ethnic Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds want included in their autonomous northern Iraq region.

A referendum is due this year to determine the status of the city, but Arab residents and Turkmen -- Turks' ethnic kin -- want it to be delayed or abandoned.

CEASEFIRES The PKK announced a ceasefire in 1999 after its leader Abdullah Ocalan was imprisoned. This was broken in 2003 when fighting broke out between the Turkish military and the PKK. A 2006 ceasefire is officially still in place.

Earlier today Buyukanit appeared to respond to calls from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party for autonomy in southeast Turkey, in a speech marking the anniversary of the death of Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's revered founder.

''If our (state's) unitary structure and fundamental values of the regime are confronting some threats today, we should know that deviation from Ataturk's nationalism has started,'' the text of his speech said.

Despite Erdogan's threat to attack the PKK in Iraq, Iraq's foreign minister said this week he believed the threat of a major Turkish offensive had diminished.

Washington does not want Turkey to send thousands of troops across the border, fearing it could destabilise northern Iraq and cause a bigger regional crisis, but has not opposed limited military strikes.

Reuters SBA VP0210

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