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Slow pace of South Asian peace

From CNN Correspondent Suhasini Haidar

Indian policemen escort Pakistani prisoners prior to their release.
Indian policemen escort Pakistani prisoners prior to their release.

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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- After more than a year in an Indian jail, seven teenage Pakistani teenage boys are now headed home to their families.

One of the boys, 16-year-old Dinesh Kumar, says he ran away from his home in Pakistan last year and mistakenly ended up on India's side of the border where he was caught and taken to jail.

He and the others were released on November 14, India's Children's Day -- another small step on the road to easing tensions between old enemies Indian and Pakistan.

According to Indian officials there are scores of smililar cases on both sides of the border; children whose playful wanderings have turned into international border incidents between the South Asian rivals.

One source said as many as 250 Indian boys are currently being held in Pakistan for border violations.

India and Pakistan have fought four wars in the past 55 years.

In mid-2002 the two countries again broke ties with each other, bringing the region once again to the brink of war.

Although the two sides eventually stepped back, restoring relations is proving to be a much longer process.

Air, road and rail links have been resumed, but government officials say there is still no high-level dialogue planned between the countries' leaders.

Many are now looking to a South Asian conference in January for the next step forward.

The conference will be held in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee expected to attend.

"I am sure when he goes to Islamabad, I am sure he is going to say something that is not on the script," one optimistic observer said.

Indian officials say there are no current plans for Vajpayee and Pakistani officials to hold bilateral talks.

But analysts point out that any contact between Vajpayee and the Pakistani leadership will be significant.

And it could lead to more peace initiatives and an end to the strained relations between the nuclear neighbors which many believe has victimized each country's citizens.


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