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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
India rules out early Pakistan talks
George Fernandes
The focus is on confidence-building, says Mr Fernandes
India's defence minister has ruled out peace talks with Pakistan in the near future.

"When we reach the time for talks [they] will be held, but it is not very close," Mr Fernandes said on Friday.

But the minister welcomed recent Pakistani moves to curb separatist militant groups blamed by Delhi for killings in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Separately, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar said Islamabad was prepared to discuss with Delhi a formal moratorium on nuclear testing.

Kashmir deaths

Speaking in Madras, Mr Fernandes said Indian and Pakistani governments had focused on confidence-building measures since the two prime ministers talked by telephone this month.

The call was the first such contact in more than two years.

Both leaders have said they want peace talks, but no venue or time has been mentioned.

Indian soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir
The Indian army says it has killed 16 Kashmir militants since Tuesday

India and Pakistan are resuming ties at ambassadorial level and restoring landing rights for each other's civilian aircraft, which were suspended last year as the countries came close to war.

Mr Fernandes gave some cautious praise to Pakistan for its recent moves to curb Kashmiri separatists.

Pakistan has banned a prominent Islamic extremist, Masood Azhar, from entering Pakistan-administered Kashmir although it denied reports it had banned the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.

"Pakistan has taken some decisions and asked some terrorist leaders and groups not to venture into certain areas. To an extent, it should be welcomed," Mr Fernandes said.

His comments came a day after 12 suspected Islamic rebels trying to cross into Indian-administered Kashmir were shot dead by Indian troops.

Four infiltrators were killed in the same area on Tuesday, the Indian army said.

Moratorium

On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said India and Pakistan were going "step by step toward a dialogue".

It is important for both India and Pakistan to engage in serious discussions for nuclear and strategic stability in our region
Riaz Khokar
Pakistani Foreign Secretary

Mr Jamali said: "We are ready to talk with India on economic, sports and cultural sides. We will maintain our principled stand on the Kashmir issue."

On Friday, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported that Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar had said that Islamabad was prepared to discuss the formalisation of a moratorium on nuclear testing with India.

Mr Khokar made the statement at a session of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Thursday.

"It is important for both India and Pakistan to engage in serious discussions for nuclear and strategic stability in our region," Mr Khokar said.

He said a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing between the rivals could be formalised.

A formal agreement by the nations to notify each other of ballistic missile tests would constitute an important confidence-building measure, he said.



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