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Separatist Infiltration Into Kashmir on the Rise, Says US Ambassador - 2002-09-19

The U.S. Ambassador to India says the infiltration of separatist militants from Pakistan into Indian-administered Kashmir is on the rise. The U.S. diplomat also says state assembly elections in Indian Kashmir are off to a good start.

Ambassador to New Delhi Robert Blackwill says the United States expects Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to honor his pledge to halt militants from crossing into Indian territory in Kashmir.

Speaking to Indian television reporters in New Delhi, Mr. Blackwill says after a promising start, when militant infiltration dropped off considerably, infiltration has picked up. "Our best information is that infiltration rates are up again and have been up in August, having been down in June and July," he said. "They are up again and they continued up in September, which of course is very troubling."

Ambassador Blackwill says President Bush raised the issue of increased militant infiltration with General Musharraf when they met September 12.

The U.S. diplomat also says the first round of four-stage state assembly elections in Indian Kashmir got off to a good start Monday. Pakistan has called the elections a sham, but Ambassador Blackwill says they are anything but. "The first round was a positive start to the Kashmir electoral process," said Robert Blackwill. "I think it is even uplifting to see ordinary people exercise their democratic right to vote in a situation in which others wish to coerce them and terrorize them, and introduce so much fear into the situation they will not vote. With a very great number of people it did not work."

Indian officials say there was a 47 percent voter turnout Monday during the first phase of voting a higher than expected percentage. Voters return to the polls three more times until all votes are counted on October 10.

Separatist militants in Kashmir have threatened to kill anyone voting. Separatist political parties have called for a boycott saying the elections are not linked to a settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Opposition leader, Sonia Gandhi made a rare visit to Kashmir, telling a campaign rally the Congress Party supports talks within the framework of India's constitution to end the Kashmir crisis.

More than 400 people have died in election related violence since the vote was announced on August 2. The latest victims, a boy and his teacher, were killed Thursday when suspected separatist militants opened fire on a school about 170 kilometers north of the city of Jammu.