Indian PM holds Kashmir roundtable but separatists stay away

February 26, 2006 - 0:0
NEW DELHI (AFP) -- India's prime minister began a day of round-table talks Saturday with Indian Kashmiri politicians on the future of the disputed Kashmir region as separatist leaders boycotted the meeting.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the talks at his sprawling colonial-style bungalow in the capital.

"Around 55 representatives of political parties and other groups are there," an official from the prime minister's office told AFP.

Separatist leaders have refused to take part in the talks, describing the exercise as "highly premature" as discussions between India, Pakistan and Kashmiris on the disputed region "have made no headway or breakthrough".

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have been engaged in a slow-moving peace process since early 2004 to settle their feud over Kashmir, trigger of two of their three wars.

They each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full.

A deadly insurgency against New Delhi's rule has raged in the Indian zone since 1989 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Omar Abdullah, head of the pro-India National Conference party, who was attending the summit, said earlier in the week he planned to raise the issue of autonomy for Kashmir at the meeting.

Singh, who has already been meeting individually with rebel leaders, had hoped to meet simultaneously with Kashmiri politicians and separatists for the first time. Instead, only mainly representatives of Kashmiri and national political parties and ethnic minorities are participating in the meeting which was called in mid-February.