Leaders welcome Kashmir ceasefire

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The Independent Online

The Indian government's declaration at the weekend of a ceasefire in Kashmir during Ramadan was rejected yesterday by two militant groups, but in the Kashmir valley there were tentative hopes that this tiny sprig of hope might come to more than the previous one.

The Indian government's declaration at the weekend of a ceasefire in Kashmir during Ramadan was rejected yesterday by two militant groups, but in the Kashmir valley there were tentative hopes that this tiny sprig of hope might come to more than the previous one.

On Saturday, Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, said operations by security forces against militants in the valley would be unilaterally halted during Islam's holy month, which begins on 28 November this year.

Yesterday, Britain and Russia hailed the initiative as a welcome first step. Peter Hain, Minister of State at the Foreign Office who is visiting India, welcomed the ceasefire and asked Pakistan to respect it.

In Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, Al Badar Mujahedin, one of the many militant groups fighting India for the "liberation" of Kashmir, rejected the announcement as "one more attempt [by India] to misguide world opinion. Our jihad will continue until Indian forces withdraw from occupied Kashmir," the spokesman said.

Syed Salahuddin, the leader of Hizb-ul Mujahedin, the most well-established of the militant groups, was guarded in his comments. In Islamabad he said:"Ceasefire for ceasefire has no meaning," and called for "meaningful dialogue for the resolution of the Kashmir conflict".

The lack of a response by the All-Party Hurriyet Conference, the voice of separatist parties, suggests a reluctance to strangle the initiative. In summer, a ceasefire between the Indian government and Hizb-ul Mujahedin was called off by the latter after it was cajoled by the Pakistan government into insisting on Pakistani participation in negotiations. The end of the ceasefire plunged the valley back into gloom and bloodshed. There were more deaths and clashes in October than in any other month this year.

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