Vol. 5 Num 1022 Tue. April 17, 2007  

Separatists to snub Kashmir meeting

Muslim separatists in Indian-run Kashmir said yesterday they would boycott a government-organised meeting this month on the revolt-hit province, saying talks would be a "futile exercise."

The so-called "Kashmir roundtable" is due to be held in New Delhi on April 24, the third such meeting aimed at easing tensions in the revolt-hit state which is divided between India and Pakistan.

"It is a futile exercise. We will only take part in trilateral talks involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiris," prominent hardline separatist Masarat Alam told AFP.

The first two meetings last year were attended by pro-Indian parties only with those opposed to Indian rule in Kashmir staying away.

He argued that bilateral talks between New Delhi and Kashmiri parties -- an idea of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- will not resolve the dispute as Pakistan was also an "important party" in the dispute.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan hold Kashmir in parts but claim it in full. They have fought two of their three wars over the scenic region since getting independence from Britain in 1947.

The roundtable process is different from a "composite dialogue" launched by the two nations in January 2004.

Moderate separatists have held talks with India in the past, although sources said they were also likely to boycott the April 24 meeting and were meeting Monday to discuss the issue.

The insurgency in Kashmir was launched in 1989 and has left more than 42,000 people dead by an official count. Human rights groups put the toll at 70,000, including 10,000 people who have disappeared and are presumed dead.