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Peace Talks Between India, Kashmir Separatists Seen Likely - 2004-01-13

Peace talks between India and separatists from the disputed Kashmir region appear set to take place later this month. Leaders from a moderate faction of a separatist alliance say they have received a formal invitation to attend talks with India's deputy prime minister.

A top official from the All Parties' Hurriyat Conference says separatist leaders will meet later this week to decide on the issues they want to discuss with the Indian government.

The group has been invited to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani in New Delhi on January 22.

The Hurriyat, as the group is known, is an alliance of about two-dozen Kashmiri separatist organizations. Some groups want the border region to be independent, while others want the Muslim-majority area to join predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

Speaking to the Indian television network Aajtac, a senior Hurriyat leader said that India's recent strides toward resolving its long-running tensions with Pakistan helped bring about the talks with the separatists.

Earlier this month, India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held a surprise meeting with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. They agreed to hold further talks on improving relations, probably starting next month.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaz Omar Farooq says there is a positive atmosphere that has been building up and the decision by India and Pakistan to hold a meeting in February has had a positive impact on Kashmir. He added that with these conditions, hopes will be high for the talks, and he hopes the government of India will sincerely begin a process toward peace.

In a policy reversal last year, India said it would send Deputy Prime Minister Advani to Kashmir for talks with the separatists. Previously, only low-ranking officials had participated in meetings with them.

India says its sovereignty over the two-thirds of Kashmir under its control is not up for negotiation. New Delhi wants to reach an agreement that will end the 14-year insurgency by Islamic militants.

India has fought two conventional wars over Kashmir against Pakistan - a nuclear rival. At the moment, the two sides are observing a cease-fire in the disputed region.