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New Indian President:  Kashmir Elections Must Be Completed Successfully - 2002-08-14

India's President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said the disputed region of Kashmir is an integral part of India and not an international issue. The remark came in a pre-Independence Day address to the nation.

In a speech televised live to the nation, President Kalam said the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir is not an international issue. He said elections to choose a state government in the region must be completed successfully.

"Normal election process is on in Jammu and Kashmir. It is essential to ensure its successful completion and dawn of peace in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr. Kalam said.

Elections in Kashmir are to be held in four phases starting mid-September. India hopes the polls will mark the beginning of a political process in the disputed region, where a Muslim separatist insurgency has raged since 1989, and which lies at the heart of its conflict with Pakistan.

Earlier, in an address to mark its Independence Day, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf criticized India's plans to hold elections in Kashmir. He called them a farce and an attempt to draw attention away from its "illegal occupation" of the disputed territory. Mr. Musharraf also asked India to begin a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue.

In his speech, the Indian president reiterated New Delhi's position that India will only hold talks with Pakistan when cross border terrorism ends. India accuses Islamabad of training and arming Islamic militants to fuel a violent separatist insurgency in the region, Islamabad denies the charge.

Meanwhile, India's foreign ministry called Pakistan's attitude to the Kashmir elections "hostile, unhelpful and not designed to promote peace in the region."

This year, both south Asian nations are celebrating their Independence Day amid continuing tensions that have led them to deploy nearly a million troops along their common borders.

Mr. Kalam was elected president, a largely ceremonial position, last month. He called for an end to communal and divisive clashes in the country, saying India needs a "second vision" to integrate people from all walks of society. The call comes in the wake of Hindu-Muslim clashes that swept through the western Indian state of Gujarat earlier this year.

"We have to eradicate communal and other divisive clashes sprouting in certain parts and remove the pains of our people whether it is in Jammu and Kashmir, or in any other part of our country. We also have to find a permanent solution to combat terrorism," Mr. Kalam said.

In India, tight security has been mounted ahead of the Independence Day celebrations Thursday to prevent attacks by Islamic guerrillas.