Former Indian PM Vajpayee dies after prolonged illness

Former Indian PM Vajpayee dies after prolonged illness

NEW DELHI, 24 January 2004 — Kashmiri separatists paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee here yesterday evening, the first ever meeting between an Indian premier and separatists.

The meeting between five moderate members of Kashmir’s main separatist group the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and Vajpayee at his residence here lasted around 40 minutes, reporters at the scene said.

The meeting follows substantive talks on Thursday between the Hurriyat moderates and Vajpayee’s deputy, Lal Krishna Advani.

Omar Farooq, one of the five separatist leaders, overnight told the Press Trust of India that the delegation would convey the Hurriyat’s “complete support” to Vajpayee’s efforts to improve ties with Pakistan.

“We are going to tell Vajpayee that the beginning he has made in Islamabad, the entire leadership in Kashmir, the people in Kashmir are with the process,” he said.

“We intend to see that this dialogue process is taken forward so that even at the India-Pakistan level things will move forward because that does have a direct impact on the situation in the state,” he said.

During the icebreaking talks Thursday, Advani and the separatists agreed that violence from all sides must end and said the second round of negotiations will be held in March.

Advani also said there would be a “rapid review” of the cases of political prisoners.

After Thursday’s talks, Farooq said India may halt security operations in Kashmir by early next month, coinciding with the festival of Eid Al-Adha.

That meeting marked the first time the separatists and the government had held such high-level talks and came only two weeks after nuclear rivals India and Pakistan agreed to resume discussions next month on a host of disputes, including Kashmir, the trigger of two of their three wars.

Kashmir analyst Tahir Mohiudin said the talks had “begun on a satisfactory note”.

“For the first time India has agreed to hold step-by-step talks to resolve the dispute of Kashmir,” he said, adding that Advani’s assurance on reviewing cases of detainees “was a big concession”.

However, militants yesterday rejected calls for an end to violence.

“We will not silence our guns against Indian troops and their paid agents,” Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen’s field commander Gen. Mohammed Umar said in a statement circulated among local newspaper offices.

Jamiat is one of a dozen rebel groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir. It wants to merge Kashmir with neighboring Pakistan, which along with India holds the region in parts, though both claim it in full.

Umar said the group would continue fighting Indian troops “until we achieve our goal of forcing India out of Kashmir.”

Before the talks Jamiat had threatened the moderates with a “bad end” if they “bowed” before India.

“It (Thursday’s meeting) has been a total flop show,” said Syed Ali Geelani, head of the Hurriyat’s hard-line faction. “Nothing has emerged out of these talks,” he told AFP.

Geelani, who has the backing of militants in the region, where Indian officials say more than 40,000 people have been killed in the revolt, also defended the violence by Kashmiri rebels.

Meanwhile, suspected militants killed four people, including a pro-India political worker while Indian troops shot dead a militant, police said yesterday.

Maqbool Jan, a worker of pro-India political group Awami League, was shot dead by suspected militants in the town of Bandipora in north Kashmir yesterday, a police spokesman said.

Jan was close to Usman Majeed, a militant-turned-lawmaker from the area.

The Awami League was formed in 1995 by former militants, who changed sides and worked with Indian troops to counter Kashmir insurgency.

They have been on the hit list of militants fighting to secede Kashmir from India and join it with neighboring Pakistan or remain independent.

Suspected militants overnight shot dead a retired police inspector in the village of Kawachak in northern Baramulla district, of which Bandipora is an important town.

Police said the body of a Muslim youth was recovered in the southern district of Pulwama yesterday. “The body had slit marks on the throat,” a police spokesman said, and put the blame on rebels for the killing.

Another Muslim was also killed by suspected militants in the same district, police said, adding a rebel was shot dead by security forces during a gunfight in Poonch district, further south.

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