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New Violence in Kashmir Precedes Indian-Pakistani Peace Talks - 2004-06-26

In Indian Kashmir, suspected Islamic militants have shot dead 12 people and wounded 12 others. The attack comes a day before India and Pakistan open talks on the disputed region that has been wracked by 15 years of violence.

Indian officials said armed men burst into several homes Friday night, and opened fire on residents in a remote village in Poonch district, about 200 kilometers north of Kashmir's winter capital of Jammu.

Most of the villagers killed late Friday were members of a local defense committee, trained by Indian security forces to guard remote areas. A woman and a child were among the victims, and several people were wounded, many seriously.

Indian officials blamed the attack on Muslim separatists, who have waged a 15-year insurgency in Indian Kashmir. The rebellion has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

The violence comes ahead of the first talks in three years between India and Pakistan on how to settle their dispute over Kashmir, a region divided between them and claimed by both.

In the past, militants have tried to derail peace talks between the two countries, by staging violent attacks. But India says it will not allow terrorism to divert it from its quest for peace in South Asia.

Indian and Pakistani officials say peace, security and Kashmir are all on the agenda of the talks, which will be led by the foreign secretaries of the two countries, and which are due to open Sunday in New Delhi.

Both sides are expected to propose several confidence-building measures that will enable them to move ahead with a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, which has triggered two wars between them.

C. Raja Mohan, professor for South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says India wants assurances that Pakistan will not support Islamic militant groups waging the separatist insurgency in Kashmir. He says Islamabad wants assurances that India will consider Kashmir as the "core issue" to be addressed in a series of planned negotiations between the two countries.

"Pakistan wanted serious negotiations on Kashmir, and India is prepared for it. India in turn wants to see the violence level remain low in Kashmir," said C. Raja Mohan. "So, there is something for both sides to give and take, and we might see some of that taking place in these talks."

The discussions on Kashmir come amid a wider effort to improve ties between the two countries. Since last November, a cease-fire has been in placed along the disputed frontier in the divided territory, and the two countries have resumed transport and diplomatic links that were cut off after they came close to war in 2002.