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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 18:59 GMT
Kashmir peace talks offer
Kashmiri Muslims carry the body of slain assembly member Abdul Aziz Mir during his funeral procession
Thousands have died in the violence

The main separatist alliance in Indian-administered Kashmir has said it will try to broker a ceasefire with militants if India commits to peace talks.

Abdul Gani Bhat, leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, said his offer depended on India agreeing to settle the territorial dispute within an agreed timeframe.

He was addressing a public rally at Hurriyat headquarters in the state's summer capital, Srinagar.

Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan, has provided the spark for two of the three wars between the countries since independence.

About a dozen militant groups are fighting to oust India from the part of Kashmir it administers.

Delegation

Abdul Gani Bhat also asked the Indian Government to allow Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan, so they could speak to militant leaders based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

He said: "If we are allowed to visit Pakistan, and if the Indian Government commits itself to a timeframe for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute through dialogue, we'll speak to our children and tell them to give up the gun."

The Indian Government has, for the past two years, refused to allow a Hurriyat delegation to visit Pakistan.

But there are also indications that militant leaders in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, are suspicious of the proposed visit.

Monday's rally was the first of its kind in Srinagar.

More than 3,000 people, mostly young men, participated in it.

The rally was organised by a pro-Pakistan group, the Islamic Students' League, and participants chanted pro-freedom slogans.

Police and paramilitary forces deployed near the venue did not interfere - probably a reflection of the newly-elected state government's liberal policy.

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23 Dec 02 | South Asia
22 Dec 02 | South Asia
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