May 2006 News

Kashmir Rebel Chief Rejects Indian 'come Home' Call

31 May 2006

Rawalpindi: The Pakistan-based commander of Kashmir's biggest guerrilla group rejected on Wednesday an appeal by India's prime minister for militants to return to their homes, saying New Delhi must first leave the territory.Syed Salahuddin, leader of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen guerrilla group, said Manmohan Singh's call for separatist militants to return to Indian-held Kashmir was a trick. 'The home is my home. Nobody can stop to go or enter the home. The question is the aggressor should get out,' Salahuddin told Reuters at his office in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. Singh who visited Kashmir last week appealed to militants to 'come home' and told security forces to be more humane as he pressed forward with peace talks. Indian officials said Singh's call to militants to return meant he would offer favourable treatment of their cases but he was stopping well short of an amnesty. But Salahuddin said Singh had no right to make such an offer. 'Manmohan has no moral justification in saying 'let militants come to their homeland',' he said. 'To cross over the ceasefire line is our basic right. No one can deprive us of it,' he said, referring to the line separating Indian- and Pakistani- controlled Kashmir. The divided Himalayan region is the core dispute between the nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, who nearly went to war a fourth time in 2002. The neighbours have embarked on a tentative peace process and have agreed to upgrade diplomatic, economic and sporting ties, as well as transport links. But there has been little progress on solving their decades-old dispute over Muslim-majority Kashmir, where militants have been battling Indian security forces since 1989. 'STALLING FOR TIME' Salahuddin, who is also chairman of the United Jihad Council, a grouping of a dozen Kashmiri militant groups, repeated a demand that the Indian government accept Kashmir as a disputed region. The rebels would immediately announce a truce if India did so, he said. 'If Manmohan Singh declares it disputed, we'll start (a ceasefire),' he said. New Delhi considers the whole of Kashmir as an integral part of the country. Salahuddin accused India of adopting delaying tactics in its approach to the Kashmir dispute. 'Their sole objective is to gain time to oppress the target- oriented militancy ... and at the same time hoodwink the international community that Indian authorities are serious in resolving the Kashmir issue through meaningful dialogue,' he said. The United States put Salahuddin's group on a terrorist watch-list in 2003. Salahuddin, a burly man with a bushy black beard, said he was not hopeful that dialogue going on between India and Pakistan would lead to a settlement of the Kashmir problem. He said Pakistan should stop making concessions to India until India responded to the concessions Pakistan had already made.


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