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Pakistani, Kashmiri Leaders Welcome Indian Pledge to Reduce Troops in Kashmir


India has announced it will reduce troops in the disputed region of Kashmir in the next few months because of a decline in separatist violence. Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders are praising the decision and say it could give a boost to the peace talks.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Masood Khan welcomed India's announcement late Thursday that it will reduce troops in the disputed region of Kashmir.

"We welcome this decision by the Indian government and the announcement made by Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh," said Masood Khan. "I think it's a step in the right direction."

Mr. Singh says the reductions will come in response to a decrease in separatist violence. He did not say how many of India's 400,000 soldiers may be withdrawn, but that it would take place in the approaching winter season.

But Pakistan says the decision may give a boost to peace talks scheduled to be held between the two nations in December.

India has been fighting for control of Kashmir on two fronts. One is with nuclear rival Pakistan, which controls one third of Kashmir but claims all of the mostly Muslim region.

The other is a 14-year insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir, against Islamic militants who want the region to merge with Pakistan, or to be independent.

Mr. Singh's announcement comes one week after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf suggested Kashmir could be demilitarized, as an interim step toward a solution.

Mirwaz Omar Farooq, with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference - a coalition of Kashmiri separatist groups, is encouraged.

"The Hurriyat is definitely watching the developments very keenly," said Mirwaz Omar Farooq. "The statement by the Indian Prime Minister today, the statement by General Musharraf last week. So I think, you know, these are all positive developments."

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. The territory has been in dispute since former colonial ruler, Britain, divided India and Pakistan in 1947.

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