Indian PM Manmohan Singh renews Kashmir talks offer

Image caption,
PM Singh addressed a university convocation in Srinagar

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has renewed an offer of talks with Kashmiri separatists who shun violence.

He made the comments during a visit to a university in Sringagar in Indian-administered Kashmir.

He is on a two-day trip to the state to review development schemes. Separatists have called for a shutdown in protest.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are based in Kashmir, where there has been a two decade-old insurgency against Indian rule.

Mr Singh has disappointed those who expected him to announce a political package, the BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says.

"We felt that the people of the state are not only interested in financial assistance and development projects, but also desire a political process that meets their aspirations," Mr Singh told Monday's gathering at the agricultural university in Srinagar.

"We want to take the dialogue process forward. We are ready to talk to representatives of all sections who are opposed to terrorism and violence," he said.

'Strict instruction'

The prime minister repeated his government's policy of "zero tolerance" for human rights violations.

"The security forces in Jammu and Kashmir have been strictly instructed to respect the rights of the civilians. We'll act to remove any deficiency in the implementation of these instructions," he said.

Image caption,
The PM's visit was greeted by protests against human rights violations

The prime minister's visit came a day after the Indian army suspended a senior officer accused of killing three civilians in a staged gun battle.

The incident happened at Machhil near the Line of Control, the de facto border which separates Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, in April.

The Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley came to a near total standstill in protest at the prime minister's visit.

The strike was called by hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Mr Singh's visit has also disappointed the moderate faction of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, our correspondent says.

Mr Farooq had urged the prime minister to announce a political package during his visit.

He had demanded the withdrawal of troops from cities and towns and the release of political prisoners to facilitate talks between the separatist leadership and the government, our correspondent adds.

Violence has declined in Kashmir in recent years, but analysts say militants opposed to Indian rule are now trying to regroup.

There has been a spate of clashes in recent months along the LoC.

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