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Separatist leaders dismissed the gathering as a public relations ploy.

“The meeting is a cosmetic and halfhearted measure,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Since 1989, a violent, separatist insurgency and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces have killed an estimated 68,000 people.

While that rebellion has been largely suppressed, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep, and the region remains heavily militarized with hundreds of thousands of troops, checkpoints along main roads, and harsh emergency laws still in force, creating further friction with the restive population.