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Indian Official, Kashmiri Separatist Leaders Conclude Peace Talks

India's Deputy Prime Minister and Kashmiri separatist leaders have concluded talks aimed at returning peace to Indian Kashmir. It was the second meeting between the two sides since they began an historic dialogue earlier in the year.

Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and Kashmiri separatist leaders emerged from two hours of talks in New Delhi saying the dialogue is moving ahead in the right direction.

Abdul Ghani Bhat, one of the four Kashmiri leaders who met Mr. Advani said the two sides will meet again in June.

"I hope we will be discussing ideas, outlines which we have drawn and hopefully we will be moving forward towards a lasting peace," he said.

Mr. Advani and a moderate faction of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Party Huriyat Conference, opened talks in January. It is the first-ever dialogue between the two sides since a Muslim separatist insurgency erupted in Kashmir 14 years ago.

Saturday's talks were not expected to yield anything substantive because India is due to hold general elections starting next month. But they have helped in keeping the process of a dialogue moving.

Last month, the Kashmiri leaders had threatened to suspend the talks after blaming Indian security forces for alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Kashmiri separatist leaders say they pressed Mr. Advani to ensure that rights violations come to an end. They are also seeking the release of more political prisoners.

Mr. Bhat said such issues will be part of a larger peace dialogue between the two sides.

"Lot many issues face us," said Abdul Ghani Bhat. "There are issues concerning human rights violations, there are issues concerning detenues. But the most important issue is that what do we do with the problem as a whole."

Indian authorities have agreed to free some more detainees on top of the 69 prisoners who were released after the first round of talks.

The Indian government also wants Kashmiri separatists not to call for a boycott of the general elections in Kashmir as they have done in past elections. But the Kashmiri leaders are not committing anything, and told reporters the issue should be left to their discretion.

The talks came a day after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told an election rally in the northern city of Amritsar that he thinks peace between India and Pakistan will be permanent.

Kashmir is also the main source of tensions between India and Pakistan, and the two nations started their own peace negotiations last month.