South Asia

India MPs meet Kashmir separatist leaders

Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (2nd from left) meets members of delegation of Indian MPs at his residence in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir - 20 September 2010
Image caption Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (2nd left) was told secession was out of the question

The three main separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir have met members of an all-party delegation of Indian politicians from Delhi.

The separatists had earlier refused to meet the delegation, which is visiting after months of violent protests that have claimed more than 100 lives.

Moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was told there was no chance of Kashmiri secession from India.

But he was told that all other issues could be discussed.

Different groups of MPs from the delegation met Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik at their residences.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Indian-administered Kashmir's main city of Srinagar says the Indian government is trying to build a consensus among the country's major parties on how to deal with the situation.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the leader of the moderate faction of the separatist alliance the Hurriyat Conference (HC), was told by the MPs who visited him that while the idea of Kashmiri succession from India would not be entertained, all other options were on the table.

Mr Farooq, who is under house arrest, told India's NDTV that a private call from the five MPs was not the same as talks with the government.

Before the meeting, he told the BBC the delegation's visit to Kashmir was of limited value.

"The Kashmir issue is not about sending delegations from Delhi with no mandate, it's very clear that they have come to Kashmir to assess the situation."

He added: "I mean what is there to assess? A hundred people have been killed in the last three months, young children, from 80-year-old to 60-year-old people have been shot dead."

Another group of MPs from the Indian delegation had earlier visited Syed Ali Shah Geelani at his residence, where he too is under house arrest.

Mr Geelani leads the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference.

Our correspondent says Mr Geelani's decision to talk to the MPs is unexpected because he has been a strident critic of Delhi's policy in the region.

The leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, was also visited by a group from the delegation.

The delegation is led by Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and includes lawmakers from all major national parties.

The government announced the all-party fact-finding mission last week after an emergency meeting in the capital, Delhi.

During their two-day visit, the delegation plans to consult members of the public and Kashmiri politicians in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

But there is resentment among many people who want to meet the visitors, but have so far been unable to do so because the valley remains under curfew.

Until visiting the separatist leaders, the delegation had only met pro-India politicians and business leaders.

In the latest violence in the valley, five people were injured on Monday in clashes with the army outside of the town of Sopore.

A 22-year-old woman was killed in Sopore at the weekend during clashes between police and protesters, as residents continued to defy the curfew.

Anti-India sentiment is high in the region, which has been under an almost round-the-clock curfew for the last nine days.

Kashmir has been on the boil since June, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets.

Protesters in the mainly Muslim valley have been hurling stones at troops and demanding independence from India.

Many analysts see the recent unrest as the biggest challenge to Indian rule in Kashmir for 20 years.

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