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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Kashmir vote 'on schedule'
Shop closed in Srinagar
Separatists have held strikes against election plans
India's independent election commission says there are no plans to delay polls in Indian-administered Kashmir because of security fears.

The commission is all set to hold elections in four phases as per the already announced schedule

JM Lyngdoh, Chief Election Commissioner
A private committee trying to find a solution to the long-running Kashmir dispute had called for a delay to allow greater participation in state assembly polls due to start in September.

But that suggestion appeared to be rejected by election commission head JM Lyngdoh during a visit to Indian-administered Kashmir with two colleagues to assess the region's preparedness for the poll.

"As far as we know, we are all set to hold elections as per schedule," he said.

Separatist leaders are calling for a boycott of the poll and militant groups fighting against Indian rule have warned people not to take part.

Polling arrangements

The chief election commissioner said the local administration and security forces were confident they could provide all the necessary security arrangements for the event.

Delhi has already commissioned additional paramilitary troops for the elections.

The state's chief electoral officer, Pramod Jain, said the election commission was in the process of inducting 5,000 polling staff from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to supplement those already present in the state.

He said the commission was ensuring that at least half the staff at every polling station were not from Kashmir.

He said this would help to ensure that polls were conducted in a free and fair manner.

The commission has issued 600,000 voter identity cards in the state so far.

The state has around six million voters.

There have been some allegations that the security forces have been coercing local people to obtaining voter identity cards.

But the authorities deny the charge

Separatist stand

The electoral officers are spending three days meeting senior civil and security officials and politicians to try to make a final assessment as to whether free and fair elections can be held.

Ram Jethmalani and Shabir Shah
Former minister Ram Jethmalani (right): Meeting separatist figures
Hours before the delegation arrived on Sunday, 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 Kashmiri 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.

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 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.

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