The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM holds out hope for detainees

New Delhi, Sept. 5: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tonight promised to meet the Hurriyat Conference halfway on two of its demands but left a third and most crucial one hanging.

At a two and half hour session with a team led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Singh agreed to review the cases of all detainees in Jammu and Kashmir and to ensure that violations of human rights are not tolerated.

But he remained guarded and non-committal on the Hurriyat’s third and biggest demand for a scaling down of security forces in the Valley.

Without naming Pakistan, Singh said “if there is a cessation of violence and an end to infiltration, conditions will be created for the reduction of armed forces”.

Yesterday, the Mirwaiz had said the talks with the Prime Minister would, in a way, complete a full circle. “First, we met Pakistan, then India and Pakistan spoke to each other and now we are meeting the Prime Minister'

“We will be concentrating on three main issues --- release of Kashmiri prisoners, human rights violations by security forces and measures to improve the ground situation in Kashmir.”

Singh tonight reaffirmed his commitment to ushering in peace in the state and a life of dignity for its people, iterating violence had no role in a democracy. He also agreed to a time-bound review of those held under the Public Safety Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

In his first face-to-face interaction with the Hurriyat ahead of his date with President Pervez Musharraf on September 14, Singh said the Centre would take all measures to protect the people against human rights violations.

Handing out a press release, the Prime Minister’s media adviser Sanjaya Baru said the government and the Hurriyat had agreed “to carry forward the dialogue process so that all shades of political opinion in Jammu and Kashmir are involved”.

Although the talks would continue, no date had been fixed yet, he added. Sources said a blueprint on the government’s action plan could emerge in the next two months.

The Hurriyat team, which included Fazal Haque Qureshi, Bilal Lone, Abdul Gani Bhat and Abbas Ansari, welcomed the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister. It said an honourable and durable solution to the Kashmir problem could be found only through dialogue and the only way forward was to ensure a total cessation of violence.

In Srinagar, ruling People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said the talks had brought “good news” for the people.

But she urged the Hurriyat and Pakistan to bring “accountability” into the peace process.

“We did not expect any dramatic solution to the Kashmir problem in the very first meeting, but definitely the Prime Minister has promised the withdrawal of troops and release of prisoners.”

She said her party had all along been saying that if Pakistan brought down the level of violence, it would help. “If all means of violence stop, definitely withdrawal of troops should be the next thing to follow.”

She appealed to Musharraf to “persuade the Kashmiri militants that dialogue is going on and they should put their guns down and give peace a chance”.

Singh was accompanied at the talks by national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, home minister Shivraj Patil, J&K interlocutor N.N. Vohra and the Prime Minister’s special envoy to Pakistan, S.K. Lambah.

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