- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

SRINAGAR, India Kashmir's main Islamic guerrilla group held unprecedented talks with India Thursday, vowing to implement a long-term cease-fire in the blood-stained Himalayan province a day after a wave of shootings left 102 persons dead.

Indian Home Secretary Kamal Pande sat down for the talks with a former separatist leader and four commanders of the Hezb-ul Mujahideen guerrilla group, the biggest of the groups fighting against Indian control in Kashmir.

It was the first known meeting between the government and the guerrillas since 1989, when militants began their war to either make the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir independent or to merge it with Islamic Pakistan.

Afterward, Mr. Pande said the two sides had set up a committee to hash out the details of the cease-fire, which the Hezb-ul Mujahideen declared on July 24.

A guerrilla commander wearing a handkerchief over his face said his group is serious about the cease-fire.

Indian authorities blamed this week's killings in Kashmir not on the Hezb-ul Mujahideen, but on smaller guerrilla groups that want the Hezb-ul Mujahideen to keep fighting.

"We will ask our six commanders to implement the cease-fire on the ground effectively," said the masked commander, who serves as the deputy chief of operations for the Hezb-ul Mujahideen and goes by only one name, Masood. "We express our gratitude to the government of India for extending an unconditional dialogue."

Masood said his group had identified a 12-point agenda for discussion with India, including a cease-fire and human rights violations in the province.

He said his group wanted Pakistan to be included in the talks "at a later stage."

But in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, Hezb-ul Mujahideen chief Sayed Salahuddin threatened to resume fighting if India does not begin joint talks with Pakistan and the militants over the future of Kashmir within five days.

"We have given India an ultimatum that it should accept our demand by Tuesday, 5 p.m.," Mr. Salahuddin said in an interview. "If India doesn't initiate meaningful tripartite talks, we will resume our operations."

India insists that it will not negotiate about Kashmir with Pakistan as long as the violence in the region continues.

More than 25,000 people have been killed since Indian military and Kashmiri guerrilla forces began fighting 11 years ago. Thursday's talks came on the heels of the most recent bloodshed: In a series of attacks, suspected Islamic guerrillas mowed down Hindu pilgrims and shot people in their homes around the province, leaving 102 persons dead and many more injured.

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