Indian prime minister to meet with Kashmiri separatists

India's prime minister prepared to meet Kashmiri separatists Wednesday, days after attacks by Islamic militants left 35 Hindus dead in the divided Himalayan region.

The talks in New Delhi are the second meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization for moderate Kashmiri religious and political groups.

But after the two sides failed to meet as planned in February, there seemed little chance Wednesday's talks would result in substantial progress toward a lasting solution for Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim land split between India and Pakistan.

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, scheduled to start in the evening, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said his group did not plans to "to submit any list of demands to Prime Minister Singh because no action was taken on our demands that we had presented during our last meeting."

The Hurriyat pressed for a reduction in the army presence in Kashmir and for a release of political prisoners during their first meeting with Singh in September.

But its chief demand is to be included in peace talks between India and Pakistan _ a move New Delhi has consistently rejected.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and are now engaged in a wide-ranging peace process that, among other issues, is to address their competing claims over the Himalayan region.

"We want Kashmir to become a point of co-operation between India and Pakistan rather than a point of conflict," Farooq said.

Further complicating matters were attacks by Islamic insurgents over the weekend that left 35 Hindus dead, prompting calls from many in India for Singh to take a hardline against the militants, the peaceful political separatists and Pakistan.

Separatist groups have demanded Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan for more than five decades. The campaign turned violent in 1989 with more than a dozen militant groups fighting Indian security forces, and New Delhi has routinely accused Pakistan of backing the rebels, reports the AP.

I.L.