Cease-fire with main rebel group holding in Kashmir

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The Independent Online

A cease-fire announced by a key militant group in Kashmir appeared to be holding on Sunday, providing an opportunity for separatist groups and the Indian government to move toward proposed peace talks over the disputed territory.

A cease-fire announced by a key militant group in Kashmir appeared to be holding on Sunday, providing an opportunity for separatist groups and the Indian government to move toward proposed peace talks over the disputed territory.

The Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, which announced a three-month truce Friday, is one of several groups wanting to carve out an independent state of Kashmir. Other groups demand Kashmir's merger with Pakistan.

The top Indian army commander in Kashmir, Lt. Gen. J.R. Mukherjee, said Saturday that the cease-fire with the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen was holding for the most part since July 25. Soldiers killed one Hezb-ul Mujahedeen area commander after he opened fire Friday, he said. Of the estimated 1,500 militants fighting in Kashmir, nearly 850 belonged to the group, he said.

However, fighting with smaller groups continued, army officials and militants said.

Smaller separatist organizations, Al-Umar and Jaishe-e-Mohammed, claimed Sunday they attacked Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley over the past two days, killing at least three government soldiers and wounding five others.

"No one will be allowed to sell out the sacrifices made by the martyrs," warned the Al-Umar group in a statement Sunday.

A 1972 cease-fire line divides the mountainous province of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, Pakistan the rest, and both sides claim the entire territory.

India's Interior Ministry on Friday invited all militant groups and political leaders in Kashmir to hold discussions with the government.

Leaders of several of Kashmir's political, religious and separatist organizations have taken a softer stance recently, raising hopes of peace in the frontier state after 11 years of bloodshed.

Until now, the All Party Hurriyat Conference has demanded that three-way peace talks be held between Indian and Pakistani officials and Kashmiri groups. India refuses to allow Pakistan to get involved in discussions on Kashmir's future.

On Saturday, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, the new APHC chairman, said the Hurriyat was prepared to meet representatives of New Delhi and Islamabad separately but simultaneously to solve the Kashmir dispute.

The Indian government also has facilitated a dialogue with militant groups by dropping its insistence on holding talks within the ambit of the constitution - a position that has been unacceptable to Kashmiri groups.

Major Pakistan-based guerrilla groups, the Lashkar-e Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Harkat-ul Mujahedeen and Al Badr, have vowed to continue fighting the Indian forces in Kashmir.

Daily battles between the guerrillas and security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir have left more than 16,000 people dead since 1989.

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