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Kashmir Separatist Leaders Hold First-Ever Meeting with Indian PM - 2004-01-23


Separatist leaders from Kashmir have held their first ever meeting with India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The meeting, described as a courtesy call, comes a day after the government and the separatists denounced violence in Kashmir and agreed to take steps toward ending 14 years of fighting in the disputed region.

Separatist leader Mirwaz Omar Farooq praised India's Prime Minister and Pakistan's President for taking the initiative in solving the Kashmir problem.

"We think that if together we can move forward, to see to it that this 56 year old issue is resolved, and peace and stability comes back to the region, we, on behalf of the people of Kashmir, the leadership of Kashmir, are with this endeavour," he said.

Last month Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf met and agreed to hold further discussions on how to ease long running tensions between their two nations. India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. They also both claim the border region of Kashmir in its entirety, a dispute which has twice erupted into war. Mr. Farooq is one of five moderate members of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference who spent about 40 minutes with Prime Minister Vajpayee at his New Delhi home Friday. The conference is made up of several separatist organizations, all of which want Kashmir to break free of India.

It was the separatists' second high-profile meeting in as many days. On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and the conference leaders issued a joint statement denouncing violence and agreeing to further talks on the Kashmir issue.

Concerns have been raised that the government's decision not to invite leaders of Kashmir's more hard-line separatist groups to New Delhi could mean little progress can be made to end the 14 year insurgency in the region.

But Mr. Farooq says the goal is to get the hard-liners on board.

"We have said that we want to build a broader consensus on Kashmir and that is how we want to approach this problem," he said.

The separatist leaders are expected to return to New Delhi in March, for the next round of talks with the government.

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