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Kashmir separatist group shun Indian PM's offer of talks

By Mukhtar Ahmad, For CNN
  • Group snub PM's offer of talks
  • It wants preconditions met before sitting down
  • Bloody separatist campaign has killed thousands

Srinagar, India (CNN) -- Kashmiri separatists have turned down Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's offer of talks.

The prime minister arrived in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir on a two day visit on Monday. He renewed the offer of talks to the separatists, but laced it with the condition that "they shun violence."

On Tuesday, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference said it will forgo the talks, adding that "a favorable situation had to precede for the talks to takeoff."

The group said it wanted a repeal of the law that gave "unbridled" power to Indian security forces, the release of prisoners and withdrawal of troops.

"The dialogue has to be trilateral involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership and the solution has to address the wishes of the people of Kashmir for lasting peace and stability in the region," said the chairman of the party's moderate faction, Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq.

The United Jihad Council (UJC), a coalition of various militant groups based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, dismissed the prime minister's offer as "old wine in new bottles" and said that "India was suppressing by force the just struggle of Kashmiris for their right to self determination."

Kashmir has been a source of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan ever since independence.

Under terms that the two countries agreed to at the time, Kashmir's rulers could either opt to merge with India or Pakistan or remain independent.

One part sided with Pakistan.

The ruler of the other part sided with India, where most people are Hindu. That caused controversy among the region's Muslim majority. Many of them wanted to align with Pakistan, where Islam is the dominant religion.

Since then, the Kashmir issue has been the leading cause of conflict and two of three wars between India and Pakistan.

The Line of Control was formally established in 1972 after the third war. There have been routine accusations that both sides fire across the line -- accusations both have denied.

For almost two decades, Kashmir has been wracked by a bloody separatist campaign. Authorities say up to 43,000 people have died, but some human rights groups and non-governmental organizations put the death toll at twice that.