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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Srinagar
"A remarkable development"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi
"Indian prime minister would brief parliament after Kashmir visit"
 real 28k

Dr Farooq Abdullah, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister
"India wants to talk"
 real 56k

Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Kashmir talks make progress
Indian soldier in Pahalgam
Security has been tightened in Pahalgam
The Indian Government and the leading Kashmiri separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen, have reported progress after their first formal ceasefire talks.

The two sides have decided to set up a committee to establish ground rules for the ceasefire.

Kashmir ceasefire
24 July
Hizbul Mujahideen announces ceasefire
26 July
Other Kashmiri militant groups oppose ceasefire
29 July
India suspends offensive against militants
1 Aug
Over 90 people killed in Kashmir by suspected militants
However Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee ruled out any Pakistani involvement in the talks, while Hizbul Mujahideen said it would call off its ceasefire unless Pakistan was included.

The negotiations are the first that India has held with rebels since an insurgency against its rule in Jammu and Kashmir began 11 years ago.

As the talks got under way, the Indian army launched a major offensive against other militants believed to be responsible for a series of massacres in which at least 90 people died on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Major General PPS Bindra of the northern command told Reuters news agency that helicopters were searching for the militants in the rugged mountain terrain of Doda.

'Restoration of peace'

The ceasefire talks between Hizbul Mujahideen and Indian representatives were held in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

At Thursday's meeting, the Hizbul delegation was led by three senior field commanders, including Riaz Rasool, while the Indian side was led by Home Secretary Kamal Pande and TR Kakkar.

"We agreed that the modalities for preparing grounds for restoration of peace should be pursued seriously so that elements opposed to this process could be identified and isolated," Mr Pande said after the meeting.

Indian soldier talks to a Hindu holy man
Many Hindu pilgrims are camping in Pahalgam
He also called on the other militant groups to join the peace drive.

The Hizbul Mujahideen, who declared their unilateral ceasefire last week, said they were grateful that the government had not set any preconditions for the dialogue.

The meeting was overshadowed by a wave of separatist violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, which claimed more than 90 lives.

It started with indiscriminate firing in a busy marketplace in Pahalgam, in which 30 people were killed. Most of them were Hindu pilgrims, on a pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave, 30 km from Pahalgam.

Within a few hours, 19 Hindu labourers were killed at a brick kiln in the Mir Bazar area of Anantnag district.

On Wednesday morning, militants killed at least 29 Hindus in the Doda district.

Vajpayee visit

Visiting the sites of the killings on Thursday, the Indian prime minister described the deaths as a "conspiracy by Pakistan".

Mr Vajpayee accused Pakistan-backed militants of carrying out the acts - a charge that has been denied by Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

In a live webcast with BBC News Online on Wednesday, General Musharraf said the Hizbul ceasefire had presented India and Pakistan with an opportunity to solve the Kashmir dispute.

"It is up to India and Pakistan together to take this opportunity and initiate the process of dialogue towards a resolution of this long-standing dispute."

The Hizbul chief, Sayed Salahuddin, threatened to resume fighting in five days if India did not include Pakistan in talks over Kashmir's future.

"If India doesn't initiate meaningful tripartite talks, we will resume our operations," he said on Thursday.

However Mr Vajpayee insisted that Pakistan had no role to play in the talks with Hezbul Mujahideen. "There will be no third party interference in the Kashmir issue".

More than 25,000 people have been killed since 1989, when the separatist struggle in Jammu and Kashmir began.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | South Asia
Kashmir spirals into violence
28 Jul 00 | South Asia
India appeals to militants
26 Jul 00 | South Asia
Kashmir truce condemned
24 Jul 00 | South Asia
Kashmir militants offer ceasefire
02 Aug 00 | South Asia
Former diplomats urge peace
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