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Kashmir Seperatists Call for Truce - 2004-01-27


A Kashmiri separatist leader is calling on the Indian government and Islamic militants to call a ceasefire in the troubled region, perhaps as soon as next week. The leader from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which represents a number of separatist organizations, also wants India to let the group travel to Pakistan to meet with officials.

Separatist leader Mirwaz Omar Farooq called on the Indian government to build on the momentum it has already achieved toward ending the Kashmir conflict by calling a ceasefire.

Mr. Farooq on Tuesday said the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which is next week, would be an auspicious time for the government to call a ceasefire.

"We're hopeful that the government of India would maybe announce a unilateral ceasefire, and then the militants should also reciprocate in the same manner, so that peace can be given a chance and we can move forward," he said.

Mr. Farooq is one of five leaders from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference to meet last week with senior Indian officials including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The conference represents several Kashmiri separatist groups.

The two sides agreed to take a step-by-step approach toward ending 13 years of fighting in Kashmir.

Islamic militants launched an insurgency in 1989 to try to win control of the two-thirds of Kashmir that India controls.

Pakistan also claims Kashmir in its entirety - making it a flashpoint of hostilities with India, its nuclear-powered rival. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and narrowly averted a third two years ago.

Earlier this month, however, the two governments resumed talks aimed at normalizing relations. They announced Tuesday they will hold talks in Islamabad February 16-18.

Mr. Farooq says peace cannot be achieved in Kashmir without including Pakistan in negotiations. He wants the Indian government to allow the Hurriyat Conference to hold talks with senior Pakistan officials to bring all sides in to the peace process.

"Our going to Pakistan would help to strengthen this process, to move forward, and it would be a realization on the part of those forces who believe that India is not sincere when it comes to dealing with an issue like Kashmir," added Mr. Farooq.

The Hurriyat Conference is expected to hold more talks with the Indian government in March.

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