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India 'Willing to be Flexible' on Kashmir - 2003-10-24

The Indian government says it is willing to be flexible to find an end to the Kashmir dispute. Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani suggested Friday that the government would be willing to consider giving the disputed region more power to govern itself.

India's deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, says the government would consider discussing a so-called decentralization plan giving more power to Kashmir.

Mr. Advani says the government has no problem talking about decentralization. If there is a proposal, he says the government can consider it. He adds that the government has done this in the past, in talks with rebels in other parts of the country.

The deputy prime minister did not provide any further details about the plan, but stressed that the government would not compromise on India's sovereignty over Kashmir. And, he added, upcoming peace talks should not be seen as a shift in India's policy toward Pakistan.

Mr. Advani made the comments two days after the government announced that the deputy prime minister would be willing to meet with Kashmiri separatists.

In the past, only low-ranking officials were sent to negotiate with the separatist leaders - who in turn, would often refuse to meet with them.

No date has yet been given for the talks.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a grouping of militant organizations in Kashmir, welcomed the peace talks. Smaller militant groups however repeated a demand that Pakistan be included in the talks - a demand which India has consistently rejected.

Fighting has been simmering in Kashmir for decades. It flared again in 1989 when Islamic militant groups launched an insurgency against the Indian military for control of the region held by them.

Some militant groups favor unification with predominantly-Muslim Pakistan, while others seek outright independence. More than 64,000 people have died since the conflict began.

The Indian government accuses Pakistan of harboring militant groups, which cross into its territory to carry out attacks.

But there are signs that New Delhi wants to restart stalled peace talks with Islamabad - much of which focus on the Kashmir question.

On Wednesday the government announced a series of proposals, including plans to expand sporting events between the two nations. It also announced the opening of a bus route that connects two cities in Kashmir located on opposite sides of the "line of the control" that separates the two nations' claims over the region.