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Indian parlimentarians visit strife-torn Kashmir

From Mukhtar Ahmad, CNN
  • All-party delegation seeks appraisal of unrest that has killed 105
  • Separatists turned down invitations to meet the delegation
  • Contact was made with some separatist leaders

Srinagar, India (CNN) -- An all-party Indian delegation reached Srinagar Monday morning for an on-the-spot appraisal of the unrest plaguing the Himalayan region of Kashmir for the past 102 days, which has claimed 105 lives.

The 39-member delegation of Indian parliamentarians representing the entire political spectrum of India are being led by the Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

The delegation members drove through the curfew-bound streets of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir dotted by thousands of Indian police and paramilitary soldiers, to reach the international conference center on the banks of the world famous Dal Lake.

The delegation met the leaders of the various pro-India parties. Kashmiri separatist leaders had turned down invitations to meet the delegation.

The hard-line separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is spearheading the ongoing agitation in Kashmir, rejected the invitation on the grounds the delegation wanted to treat Kashmir as an internal Indian problem while Geelani wants "that New Delhi should accept Kashmir as international dispute."

The moderate leaders Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik also turned down invitations, but sent a joint memorandum to the delegation reiterating their demands for restoration of normalcy and the initiation of dialogue.

Their demands include "demilitarization" along with the release of detainees and the "withdrawal of the draconian laws."

The joint memorandum said, "The visit represents only an effort at short-term crisis management and there is no clear commitment nor path towards effective resolution of the Kashmir issue and addressing the aspirations and interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir."

A section of the delegation, however, later called on Geelani and Mirwaiz at their residences, where the separatist leaders reiterated "their position and conditions for restoration of normalcy and settlement of the long-pending dispute of Kashmir."

The mainstream Peoples Democratic Party's president, Mehbooba Mufti, also declined to meet the delegation on the grounds that the local government has tried "to sabotage the visit by placing Kashmir under an indefinite curfew."

His party, which favors unconditional dialogue with the separatists, sent a 15-member group to the meeting urging the delegation to initiate steps to restore normalcy by halting the alleged excesses by the Indian military and the local government.

As the delegation was talking to the separatists, pro-independence protesters defied curfew restrictions in the village of Nathipora near the north Kashmir town of Sopore and staged protests.

The protesters later pelted security forces with stones and in the retaliatory fire five people were injured, two of them critically, according to a police spokesman.

The injured were taken to a hospital, he said.

Kashmir is currently divided among Pakistan, China, and India. The Indian government stationed thousands of Indian troops in the region it administers to fight what India called a Pakistani-sponsored insurgency.

Local separatist leaders have charged that with the insurgency largely defeated, the Indian army and the Indian-led regional government have attempted to repress the local population. Separatist leaders want India, which is largely Hindu, to allow Kashmir, which is predominately Muslim, to separate into an independent state.