Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 5 News List

India willing to talk to separatists


India showed some flexibility for the first time in resolving its differences with Kashmiri separatists, as the deputy prime minister said yesterday that proposed talks could focus on "decentralization" of power.

However, New Delhi will not compromise on India's sovereignty, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

Advani's statement falls short of the secessionists' aim of carving out a separate homeland or merging it with neighboring Pakistan. But it is the first mention by the Indian government of a solution that falls between the rigid stands on both sides, which have remained unchanged for more than 13 years.

"We have no problems in talking to [the] Hurriyat," Advani said. "But there will be no compromise on the country's unity and sovereignty."

He said the government was willing to hold talks on "decentralization" of power, but did not elaborate, PTI reported.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a group of religious and political parties that wants independence for India's northern Jammu-Kashmir state, responded favorably to the announcement that Advani would hold talks with them about the state's future.

However, a hard-line Islamic group fighting for Kashmir's independence has dismissed the proposed dialogue as "useless and futile" unless militant groups are included.

The guerrillas have been fighting since 1989 to join India's Jammu-Kashmir state to Pakistan or make it independent. The conflict has killed 63,000 people.

If talks are held, they would constitute the first high-level contact between the secessionist political leaders and the government.

Hours after India made the talks offer to the separatists, New Delhi announced a series of stunning proposals to break the ice with archrival Pakistan, which it blames for promoting the violence in Kashmir..

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