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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December, 2004, 09:57 GMT
Kashmir leaders in historic talks
By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Indian troops in action
Indian soldiers have spent 15 years fighting militants in Kashmir
Political leaders from two parts of the disputed territory of Kashmir are holding three days of talks in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

It is the first time they have come together in an organised forum.

Former diplomats and former military leaders from both India and Pakistan are taking part in the discussions.

Organisers say the aim is to improve communication between the two countries, whose leaders have recently began talks on the Kashmir question.

Autonomy or independence

This is a low-profile meeting being held behind closed doors at an exclusive hotel.

But it is the first time politicians from the Indian and Pakistani-administered parts of Kashmir have formally met.

Map of Kashmir

Those from the Pakistani side, such as the former prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, would like to see the whole territory joined with Pakistan.

Those from Indian-controlled Kashmir - which is India's only Muslim-majority state - generally favour autonomy or independence.

They include two well-known leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) - an umbrella separatist group.

APHC delegates taking part are from the organisation's moderate wing.

Leaders of the militant pro-Pakistan wing - which subscribe to the armed struggle - are not here.

Others present include a Hindu-Kashmiri leader and former Indian diplomats - all of whom regard Kashmir as rightfully Indian.

APHC leaders have praised the Indian government for letting them attend. It was remarked that until recently Delhi would not have wanted them to meet politicians from Pakistani Kashmir.

On the first day of talks on Sunday, the 80 or so delegates were divided into three working groups to look at issues such as confidence-building measures.

The organisers, an international peace think-tank called 'Pugwash', believe such forums will improve communication between the two countries whose top leaders are now regularly meeting to discuss the Kashmir question.

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