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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 14:30 GMT
Vajpayee says Kashmir 'improved'
Kashmir Valley
Vajpayee said he will visit the region soon
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has told parliament that action taken by Pakistan has improved the situation in Kashmir.

Things have taken a turn. Changes in Pakistan have had an impact on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee

Mr Vajpayee also said he would soon visit the region, where a massive deployment of troops by both countries in recent months has caused international concern.

Reports said the prime minister's brief statement to parliament on Monday may indicate that infiltrations by Islamic militants into the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir have decreased.

It may also ease tensions that have risen sharply since a militant attack on India's parliament last December, which Delhi said was backed by Pakistani intelligence. Islamabad denied the charge.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf cracked down on militants after the incident but refused Indian demands to hand over those suspected of involvement.

'Favourable impact'

India still rules out direct talks with Pakistan until it is convinced that Islamabad has stopped backing militants.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
The prime minister won't talk to Pakistan directly

But Mr Vajpayee's statement appeared to indicate a departure from the harsher rhetoric adopted after the parliament attack.

"Things have taken a turn. Changes in Pakistan have had an impact on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr Vajpayee was quoted as telling parliament.

"It has had a favourable impact. We must take advantage of it," he said, without elaborating.

In January, President Musharraf pledged to crack down on Islamic extremism, banning two of the main guerrilla groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

India still wants Pakistan to extradite 20 suspects wanted for crimes in India

Pakistan has rejected the demand, saying that it will prosecute the suspects if Delhi provides credible evidence against them.

Kashmir visit

Mr Vajpayee, who last visited Jammu and Kashmir in 2000, said he would make another trip soon, accompanied by Home Minister LK Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Indian army convoy
Troops are still on full alert

"We will study the situation, we will hold consultations on what kind of strategy to adopt," he was quoted as saying.

He did not say when he intended to make the trip.

The prime minister also urged separatist groups in Kashmir to take part in state assembly elections in October.

The groups have boycotted such elections in the past, claiming that they are rigged.

"The elections will be free and fair," he said.

"The separatists who call themselves true representatives of the people should join the fray," he added.

Militant groups have been fighting for the last decade to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

The territory is claimed by both India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over it since 1947.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | South Asia
MP faces trial in relic row
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN chief concerned on Pakistan rights
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Indian minister goes to Pakistan
29 Jan 02 | South Asia
India snubs Pakistan over talks
13 Jan 02 | South Asia
Bush urges Pakistan-India dialogue
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
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