India Begins Peace Conference On Kashmir
24 February 2006
New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kicked off a peace conference on Saturday with pro-India parties and minority Hindu groups in Kashmir, but the talks are seen as being undermined by a boycott by separatists. The one-day talks have been clouded by the killing of four boys between 8 years and 18 years this week in what police said was a gunbattle between suspected militants and soldiers. But villagers blamed the military and an official probe has been ordered. The deaths in north Kashmir have sparked widespread protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley in the region, cause of two of three India-Pakistan wars. Kashmiri separatists had earlier rejected Singh's invitation to the conference, saying he should have released political detainees and reduced the number of soldiers in the restive region before talks to build confidence. The killings have fuelled more anger. 'Human rights violations and peace cannot go together,' senior separatist leader Maulana Abbas Ansari told Reuters. A strike called by the breakaway faction of Kashmir's main political separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), entered its second day and shops and businesses were shut in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's main city. The APHC is not attending the conference. Anger has also been fuelled after a woman was killed in an army operation against militants on Thursday but security officials said it was an accident and regretted her death. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of India's ruling Congress party, which is a partner in the ruling alliance in the state along with the PDP, is attending the conference. Members of the minority Hindu Pandit community were also are expected to press for a separate enclave for their community within the state's current boundaries. Overnight, in continuing violence in mainly Hindu India's only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, soldiers killed three militants in the southern Doda district. More than 45,000 people have died in the separatist revolt in the region since 1989.