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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Indian forces warned over Kashmir poll
Indian police break up anti-election rally in Kashmir
A warning to security forces over their conduct
The Indian election authorities have warned the security forces in Kashmir not to force people to vote.

Anyone who commits such an offence will be prosecuted

Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh

Chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh has been visiting the region to oversee arrangements being made for holding the next state legislative elections in October.

Past elections in Indian-administered Kashmir have often been marred by reports of soldiers forcing unwilling Kashmiris into polling stations.

Kashmir has been the focus of tensions between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the region, since the two neighbours massed their troops along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the state.

The region has been devastated by a separatist insurrection since 1989 and thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in clashes between security forces and militants.

No 'foreign observers'

Mr Lyngdoh told journalists in Srinagar on Monday that he and the Indian Election Commission took the issue of holding free and fair elections "very seriously".

"No Indian is supposed to be compelled to vote or to go to the polling station to vote if he does not want to vote," Mr Lyngdoh said.

Kashmiri woman grieves after losing relative in an 'encounter' with troops
Violence has left thousands dead

"Compelling anybody to vote amounts to an offence," he said, " and anyone who commits such an offence will be prosecuted."

Mr Lyngdoh sought to set the tone for the polls scheduled in October when the term of the current state legislative assembly runs out.

He said a team of observers made up of respected people representing a cross section of political parties and other groups will monitor the polls to ensure they were free and fair.

Mr Lyngdoh ruled out the possibility of allowing any foreign election observers in to monitor the polls.

"Our law does not permit this," he said.

Separatist campaign

However, breaking with past practice, he said foreigners - including foreign diplomats stationed in India would be allowed to observe the elections - including casting of ballots inside polling stations.

Policeman searches Kashmiri man in Rajouri
Security personnel are often out in force
Kashmiris opposed to the holding of elections, like the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an umbrella organisation of separatist groups, have rejected these polls.

APHC leaders say they will hold alternative elections for the people to choose their representatives to what will effectively become a parallel assembly.

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See also:

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