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Indian Prime Minister to Meet with Kashmiri Separatists

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to hold his first meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders next week.

An Indian government spokesman says a moderate faction of the Kashmiri separatist movement, known as the All Parties Huriyat Conference, will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi next Monday.

It will be the first dialogue between the Kashmiri separatists and the Indian authorities for more than a year. The Huriyat Conference, based in the Indian portion of the disputed region, held talks with the predecessor to Mr. Singh's Congress-led government in 2004.

Since then, the situation in insurgency-wracked Kashmir has improved, mainly due to a peace process that began last January between India and Pakistan, the rivals who both claim the Himalayan region.

Huriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq told Indian television that the dialogue is part of efforts to build trust and confidence, and seek a peaceful settlement to the Kashmir dispute.

"Huriyat's agenda is very clear: we believe that the time has come when we need to address the political issue of Jammu and Kashmir," he explained. "There is already a dialogue process going on between India and Pakistan… The people of Kashmir need to be involved in it."

The Huriyat leaders will be meeting the Indian prime minister more than two months after they visited Pakistan and met with top leaders there.

An independent political analyst, Prem Shankar Jha, says the Huriyat leadership is eager to be involved in the discussions, and he says they can play a crucial role as the two South Asian rivals search for a solution to the long-festering dispute.

"They [Huriyat] would like to have a similar role in discussions and presenting their views and what they feel needs to be done," he said. "They want to be actually a bridge between India and Pakistan. "

The talks come just two weeks before Mr. Singh is expected to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Political analysts say the dialogue is also likely to touch on two related separatist demands: an improvement in the human rights situation in Kashmir, and the release of hundreds of people jailed since a deadly insurgency led by Islamic militant groups erupted in the Indian portion of Kashmir in 1989.

The Huriyat has denounced the violence of the guerrillas, but accuses the Indian armed forces battling the insurgency of widespread rights violations.