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Pakistani FM Meets With Kashmir Separatists While in New Delhi - 2004-09-06

While in New Delhi for two-day peace talks with his Indian counterpart, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Ahmed Kasuri was allowed to meet with separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir in an effort to unite them.

Pakistani Foreign minister Kasuri met with both hard-line and moderate separatists from Indian Kashmir, and is reported to have made some progress in convincing the various parties to reunite under the umbrella of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.

The Hurriyat conference, led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, is the main moderate separatist group in Indian Kashmir. A number of more militant leaders have broken away from the conference to form independent parties.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says Mr. Kasuri's meetings with the Kashmiris were very fruitful.

Mr. Khan says the Hurriyat group in Kashmir is an exemplary force that has made many sacrifices. He says its leaders have shown political courage, and were already trying to unite on their own so as to present a common front.

Mr. Kasuri's crucial meeting was with hard-liner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who in recent months broke away from the Hurriyat conference to start a party known as the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. He also met with other separatist leaders such as Shabir Shah, who, like Mr. Geelani, have split from the main group and formed their own parties. No details from these discussions were made available.

Pakistani officials say that when the Hurriyat conference's Mr. Farooq met Mr. Kasuri, the Kashmiri activist expressed his support for a proposed bus service between the capitals of the Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir, Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

Mr. Farooq was quoted as saying that divided families should be allowed to travel freely across the ceasefire "line of control" without passports and visas. Although New Delhi and Islamabad have agreed in principle to begin the bus service, they are still working on procedures.

India accuses Pakistan of permitting separatist militants to infiltrate into Indian Kashmir from Pakistani territory, a charge the Pakistanis deny.

Despite this point of contention, the Indian government allowed Mr. Kasuri to meet with the Kashmiri separatists during his time in New Delhi, saying India is a democratic country where any one can meet freely with anyone else.