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India Proposes to Phase Troops Out of Towns in Kashmir

India says it plans to phase out troops deployed in counter-insurgency operations in parts of India-controlled Kashmir, leaving them to battle insurgents in border areas. India's home minister reviewed security during a two day visit to the restive region, where tens of thousands of troops have been battling a Muslim separatist insurgency for two decades.

On his first visit to the troubled Kashmir region since a new government took office in New Delhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, says the government wants to "redraw lines of responsibility" between the army and local police.

He told a news conference Friday in Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, that the army will "guard the borders," and counter terrorism in areas "far away from towns and cities." He said the government wants to make the local police responsible for internal security.

"The state police is the principal instrument for maintaining public order, law and order, and also in fighting militancy. The army of course will continue to discharge its responsibilities on the border, and along the border. The paramilitary forces are intended to aid and assist the state police," he said.

The home minister offered no timeline for moving troops out of urban areas, but said the government is considering diminishing the troop presence because militant violence in Kashmir has declined.

The heavy presence of troops in Kashmir is deeply resented by residents in the Kashmir valley, who often accuse security forces of widespread human rights violations, and want them pulled out of the region.

Home Minister Chidambaram's visit to the valley followed massive street protests that virtually shut down the region for more than a week. The protests were triggered by allegations that two young women were raped and murdered by security forces. The home minister promised to punish those responsible.

Chidambaram also promised to review a law that gives sweeping powers to security forces in the state.

"We will carefully go into all aspects of the matter, and I will discuss the matter with the defense minister, the prime minister, and we will move on that road, in fact we have agreed to move on that road," he said.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi army chief Deepak Kapoor said any reduction of troops in Kashmir will be difficult in the coming months because of the danger that Muslim militants could cross over from Pakistani territory into Indian territory.

"The snows are now melting, the passes are going to be open, the chances of infiltration are very much there," he said.

Tens of thousands of troops have been deployed in Kashmir since a Muslim separatist insurgency erupted in 1989. However levels of violence have dropped dramatically after India and Pakistan initiated a peace process in 2004 and a cease-fire came into effect along the tense Kashmir border. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.