Boycott Indian elections, JKLF tells Kashmiris
24 March 2004
The Daily Times
SRINAGAR: An influential Kashmiri separatist group urged voters in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday to boycott national elections next month, despite tentative peace talks with the Indian government.The call came days before a moderate group of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, is due to resume talks with New Delhi to end 14 years of rebellion in the Himalayan region. 'India was enacting such a farce in Kashmir to usurp the rights of Kashmiris. I appeal to people to strictly boycott these elections,' Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said in a statement.Muslim rebels and separatist politicians have boycotted all Indian elections since a rebellion broke out 14 years ago. The JKLF is a constituent of the Hurriyat, which has yet to announce its stand on this year's elections.India goes to the polls in five stages from April 20 to May 10 in an election expected to return the ruling Hindu nationalist-led coalition to power. The Hurriyat, considerably weakened since militants opposed to talks with New Delhi walked out last year, is scheduled to hold a second round of talks with the Indian government at the weekend. The JKLF declared a ceasefire against Indian security forces in 1994 but still runs a political campaign seeking independence for Kashmir from both India and Pakistan. It has so far stayed away from peace talks with New Delhi, expressing neither support or opposition. A militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, has also urged Kashmiris to boycott the polls. Authorities reported a 44 percent turnout in Kashmir state elections in 2002 despite a boycott call and threats by rebel groups against those taking part in the polls. Separatists say the figures are exaggerated and the boycott was total. About a dozen militant groups have been fighting New Delhi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. Officials say more than 40,000 people have been killed during this period. Rebel violence continues in the region despite peace efforts by India and Pakistan who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947.