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Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Monday, 5 September 2005 18:42 UK

India 'will cut' Kashmir troops

Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Farooq
APHC faction leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had requested talks

India will cut troop levels in Indian-administered Kashmir if there is an end to violence and infiltration, the prime minister's spokesman says.

The comments came after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with five moderate separatist leaders in Delhi on Monday.

Ahead of the meeting, 13 people were killed in three separate incidents in Indian-administered Kashmir.

More than 40,000 people have died in 14 years of insurgency in Kashmir.

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"The prime minister said that if there is a cessation of violence and an end to infiltration, conditions will be created for the reduction of armed forces," spokesman Sanjaya Baru told reporters.

The prime minister also agreed to review all cases of detention and said that the government would take "all necessary measures" to safeguard against human rights violations, according to a government statement.

Hardline dissent

A moderate faction of the separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), took part in the talks in Delhi.

The Kashmir problem has to have a political approach. We can't carry on with a military approach
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

"We hope it's going to be a new beginning," leader of the APHC delegation Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was quoted as saying before the talks by Associated Press.

"The Kashmir problem has to have a political approach. We can't carry on with a military approach," he said.

The faction held two rounds of talks with the previous government, but these were the first ever talks between the group and an Indian prime minister.

Hardline elements of the alliance claimed on Monday that those participating in talks do not represent the ongoing freedom struggle in Kashmir.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the hardline faction, told a news conference that those taking part in the talks are "compromising on the demand for Kashmir people's right to self-determination."

The militant group Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen also described the talks as a futile exercise.

It said that the Indian government was only talking to Kashmiri leaders to spare itself embarrassment at the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Violent incidents

There were a series of violent incidents before the talks.

Police said heavily armed men broke into the house of two men working as special police officers in a village in Doda district of Jammu region of Kashmir.

The attackers opened fire killing both men and a third man.

In a separate incident in the same region, a 24-year-old woman was killed by suspected militants.

And in the Kashmir Valley, police say nine civilians were injured in a grenade explosion in the southern town of Shopian.

They say suspected militants threw a grenade at an Indian Army patrol. It is not known if any soldiers were injured.

No group has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

Long process

Monday's talks come nine days before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of hardline APHC faction
Mr Geelani accuses moderate leaders of compromising too far
Correspondents say the separatists are likely to take up the issue of alleged human rights violations by Indian security forces in Kashmir as well as the release of political prisoners.

A BBC correspondent in Delhi says that though no dramatic breakthrough is expected, the meeting is being seen as another step towards peace in the region and augurs well for the process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan.

The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since 1947, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The talks with the APHC will be the first for Mr Singh since his election in May last year.

A dialogue between the conference and his Congress-led government stalled in August last year when the separatists objected to conditions set by Delhi.

The sticking point has been that the conference wants to be part of three-way talks with India and Pakistan over the future of Kashmir, something India has not agreed to.

In June, leaders of the moderate faction made a landmark visit to Pakistan for talks with President Pervez Musharraf and other leaders.

The visit was described as a success by the separatists but was criticised by India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.



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