Kashmir Separatists Ready For Peace
21 January 2004
London: A Kashmiri separatist leader has told the BBC his group would like to help bring peace in the troubled region. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq says India and Pakistan, who both claim Kashmir, have realised they need to solve the long-running dispute. He was speaking ahead of the first ever talks between a moderate separatist wing and India's powerful Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani. They are expected to ask for a ceasefire in Kashmir where more than 60,000 people have been killed in 15 years in fighting between Indian forces and separatist militants. The talks place not long after India and Pakistan agreed to discuss Kashmir and all other outstanding disputes. The five- member delegation of the moderate faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference - the main separatist alliance - is being led by its chairman, Moulana Abbas Ansari. Mirwaiz Farooq told the BBC's Hindi service that although India has refused to hold three-way talks between Delhi, Islamabad and the separatists, a solution on the Kashmir issue would be reached. Conciliation The BBC's Adam Mynott in Delhi says the meeting between Mr Advani and the separatists does not mark a change in India's position. The Indian Government still maintains that Kashmir is very much part of India. But our correspondent says it is a sign of conciliation on both sides and the meeting would not have happened without recent peace moves between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. But hardline Hurriyat members and militants have distanced themselves from the meeting. 'We are not against negotiations,' said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of the Hurriyat. 'But for that it's necessary India accept Kashmir as a dispute, release all prisoners and send its troops [in Kashmir] back to the barracks,' he said. In November, India and Pakistan, who fought two wars over Kashmir agreed to a ceasefire along their shared border. Earlier this month, they agreed to discuss Kashmir as part of peace talks due in February.