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U.S. urges 'productive' Kashmir dialogue

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States applauded India's call for talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, and encouraged the parties to engage in a "productive" dialogue to solve the long-standing dispute.

"They have the opportunity now to make real progress toward the reduction of tensions and a resolution of their differences through peaceful means," deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Wednesday.

The Indian government said Wednesday it is ending a six-month cease-fire in Kashmir, but it added it will invite Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf for talks between the two South Asian rivals.

The talks would be the first since 1999 when the nuclear-capable neighbors stood on the brink of a third full-scale war over the Himalayan region, according to Reuters.

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While Reeker wouldn't go so far as to urge a continuation of the cease-fire, he said, "It's important for all sides in Kashmir to exercise restraint and to seek to reduce violence."

Overall, 1,283 people have been killed in Indian-controlled Kashmir since the truce went into effect at the end of November, nearly two-fifths of them civilians, Reuters reported.

The Indian government said it had hoped that the cease-fire in Kashmir would lead to negotiations with separatist groups in the region and Pakistan, which India says is backing them.

The government said the cease-fire had been misused by those groups, but added it hopes to continue talks with the separatists.

"We have already extended the cease-fire twice and have suffered a lot of casualties as a result," an Indian official told CNN. "It was supposed to produce a dialogue, but it has really given carte blanche to the terrorists and our hands are really tied."

The government of Pakistan said it would respond positively to an invitation for talks. A Pakistani official told CNN that the end of the cease-fire was not very significant because "it was not much of a cease-fire anyway."

"Search and seizure for militants by the Indian army has continued," the official said. "In fact we have had more civilians die since the cease-fire has been imposed than at any other period."

Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, the prime minister of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, said talks "will only be meaningful if the Kashmiris are included." Chaudhry said that Musharraf had offered in the past to meet with the Indians to talk about issues between the two countries.

Kashmir, the home of about 12 million people, has been in dispute since Pakistan split off from India in 1947. More than 30,000 people have been killed, the government says, although human rights groups put the death toll at twice that number.

Indian Kashmir is divided from Pakistani Kashmir by a "line of control."







RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
• Indian Prime Minister's Office
• Islamic Republic of Pakistan
• Kashmir Times
• Press Trust of India
• Army in Kashmir: The Truth About Kashmir
• Kashmir Information Network


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