Kashmir's separatist leader wants talks with Indian premier

Kashmir's top separatist leader, who was to hold his first official meeting Friday with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said he was bringing with him the signatures of 1.5 million Kashmiris who want their violence-wracked region involved in the peace talks between India and Pakistan.

"My only agenda for today's meeting is to urge Mr. Manmohan Singh that Kashmiri representatives should be engaged in the India-Pakistan talks directly. I think it is a legitimate demand and can be only be ignored at the peril of the peace process," Yasin Malik told The Associated Press.

Malik is chief of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, a onetime militant group that gave up violence and became a political party. He was scheduled to meet with Singh Friday evening.

India has been talking separately to Pakistan and Kashmiri separatist leaders since 2004 in its effort to end the Kashmir territorial dispute, the cause of two wars between the nuclear-armed rivals. But Kashmiri separatist leaders say they should be part of three-way talks.

"I am going to put before him 1.5 million signatures that I have collected from more than 5,000 villages in Jammu and Kashmir that ask for the same right," he said. Stacks of papers with the signatures, compiled in a door-to-door campaign across the Kashmir Valley , have previously been exhibited in New Delhi by Malik. He said the signatures have been scanned onto compact discs.

Malik was one of the first armed militant leaders to cross the border, receive weapons training in Pakistan and stoke the Kashmir insurgency when it began in 1989, reports the AP.

N.U.

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