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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
India gauges Kashmir vote
Prominent leaders of the Hurriyat Conference at a meeting
Hurriyat leaders will not budge on their boycott
Electoral officials are visiting Indian-administered Kashmir to assess the disputed region's preparedness for state assembly polls due in September.

India's independent Election Commission head JM Lyngdoh and two colleagues will spend three days meeting senior electoral and security officials and politicians to try to gauge whether free and fair elections can be held.

Security check in Srinagar
Special measures are being taken in Kashmir
Hours before the delegation arrived, there was more bloodshed as Indian troops killed seven suspected militants in a gun battle on the Line of Control separating the divided territory.

Meanwhile, a group of Indian academics and journalists says it is disappointed not to have persuaded a leading Kashmir separatist alliance, the Hurriyat Conference, to take part in the forthcoming elections.

The announcement came at the end of a three-day tour of the Kashmir valley by the so-called Kashmir Committee.

Initiative

Its leader, former Indian Law Minister Ram Jethmalani, said, however, that he was happy the Hurriyat Conference had agreed to keep talking to his group.


The committee's role is to help create a situation in which the dialogue for finding a final solution to the Kashmir problem can go on uninterrupted

Ram Jethamalani, Kashmir Committee
The Kashmir Committee was set up last month as a fresh initiative to find a peaceful resolution to a dispute which has seen nuclear rivals India and Pakistan mobilise a million troops.

On Friday, the committee held a dialogue with a prominent separatist leader and chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Ahmad Shah.

The two sides met again on Sunday.

Gujarat indicator

The tense security situation is one reason why many think the time is not conducive to holding fair elections.

Many fear separatist guerrillas will step up violence, and some militant groups have warned people not to participate in the polls.

They want a vote to decide whether Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, should stay part of India or merge with Pakistan.

Mr Lyngdoh and his team met Kashmir's chief electoral officer, Pramod Jain, in the state capital, Srinagar, on Sunday, and were to discuss a range of issues.

Correspondents say it is not clear what the team will recommend, but its decision to postpone early polls in troubled Gujarat state is a potential indicator.

Gun battle

The violence that provided a backdrop to their talks raged for 13 hours on Saturday in Keran in Kupwara district.

Casualties were confined to the militants, officials said, and repeated accusations that Pakistan was supporting cross-border incursions - something Islamabad, under pressure, has promised not to do.

Delhi insists on it as a pre-condition for de-escalation along the border, and any resumption of talks on the long-running dispute.

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