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Indian PM Prepared to Hold Unconditional Talks with Anyone Working for Kashmir Peace


India's prime minister says he is prepared to hold unconditional talks with anyone working for peace in the disputed region of Kashmir. Mr. Singh made his comment as India began a reduction of troops in the region, part of new round of peace initiatives between India and Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Kashmiris he wants a permanent end to the violence in their region, and is ready to meet anyone who shares that goal.

Mr. Singh says he is willing to talk to anyone who has the welfare of the Kashmiri people in his heart, so that Kashmiris can live with peace and dignity.

He made his comments in Srinagar on the first day of a two-day visit, his first trip to the troubled region since becoming prime minister in May.

Earlier, about 1,000 Indian troops were withdrawn from Kashmir as part of a promised draw-down of the forces. India is estimated to have at least 250,000 troops in the region.

It is not clear how many troops will ultimately be withdrawn. Mr. Singh says that will depend on the security situation.

He says, if the situation improves and the problem of the infiltration of militants can be tackled, then he can order further troop reductions.

As Mr. Singh arrived in Srinagar, two Muslim militants, who had hidden near the stadium where he later addressed a rally, were killed by Indian troops.

India is in dispute over Kashmir with both inhabitants of the region and the government of Pakistan. Both countries claim all of the region, but it is currently divided, with India controlling about two-thirds.

India's Defense Minister says that the troop reductions will include forces based along the Line of Control, the frontline between India and Pakistan, where a ceasefire is currently being observed.

The countries fought two wars over Kashmir. A key issue of contention is India's charge that Pakistan permits Islamic militants to use its territory for cross-border infiltration into Kashmir.

Since 1989, the Indians have been fighting a bloody insurgency by militants, who want the predominately-Muslim region to be independent, or to join with neighboring Pakistan.

Some separatists have been willing to negotiate with the Indian government, but one of the main separatist organizations refused an offer to meet with Mr. Singh during this week's visit.

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