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India Emissary Arrives for Kashmir Talks

April 21, 2003

SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ India sent a negotiator to Kashmir on Monday to explore the possibility of talks with separatist groups demanding the disputed Himalayan province’s independence or merger with Pakistan.

Former Home Secretary N.N. Vohra’s weeklong visit follows Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee conditional offer Saturday to negotiate with Pakistan on Kashmir and other key issues dividing the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Vohra said he would first hold talks with pro-India groups and state lawmakers before trying to reach out to others. Vohra was appointed government negotiator early this year after another emissary was unable to arrange a dialogue with the separatist groups.

``Doors for talk are fully open,″ Vohra told reporters as he left New Delhi on Sunday.

Islamic militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for mainly Muslim Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan in an insurgency that has claimed 61,000 lives. India in predominantly Hindu.

In his conditional offer for talks, Vajpayee said India would immediately send a top Foreign Ministry official to Islamabad to draw up a schedule for negotiations if Pakistan announces an end to its support to cross-border attacks and closes training camps for Islamic guerrillas in its territory.

Pakistan says it is ready for talks with India but denies there is any cross-border infiltration launched from its territory.

The largest Islamic rebel group in Kashmir rejected Vajpayee’s peace offer.

Salim Hashmi, a spokesman for the largest guerrilla group, Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, said Vajpayee’s offer ``is a deception to gain time to crush the freedom movement in Indian-occupied Kashmir.″

Meanwhile, an Indian paramilitary force said it arrested seven suspected Islamic guerrillas, armed with grenades, assault rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition during raids in and around Srinagar.

Two of those arrested belonged Hezb-ul Mujahedeen and the rest to Al-Jehad militants, both Pakistan-based militant groups, said Tirtha Acharya, a spokesman for the Border Security Force.

There was no independent confirmation of Acharya’s claim. Pakistan and human rights groups have accused Indian security forces of creating false evidence.

Separately, two Pakistani brothers were killed when Indian soldiers lobbed artillery shells across the disputed Kashmir border into Pakistan, officials said Monday.

The bothers, 12 and 14, died in Hajira district, 100 miles south of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Police Superintendent Raja Mohammed Sarwar told The Associated Press.

Indian and Pakistani soldiers routinely engage in firefights across the disputed border, which has been the flashpoint of two wars between the nuclear neighbors.

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