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India to withdraw Kashmir troops
November 16, 2004
India will begin a pullout of some of its troops from the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, a defence spokesman says.

The move is to coincide with a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - his first since taking office in May.

Ahead of his arrival, police in Indian-administered Kashmir said suspected militants had shot dead six people in two separate attacks.

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir and have fought two wars over it.

But since January this year they have embarked on a peace process to try and resolve all their outstanding differences, including those over Kashmir.

We are looking forward to a political package for Kashmir which would include the release of prisoners, an end to human rights violations
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

A defence spokesman in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, said the withdrawal of troops would begin from the southern district of Anantnag.

The move has been welcomed by the Kashmir chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who described it as a "big step" towards restoring normality in the state.

It remains unclear how many soldiers India plans to pull out.

India is estimated to have between 180,000 to 350,000 soldiers in the state, including paramilitary special forces who would not be affected by the pullout.

The prime minister announced last week that India would reduce the number of troops deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir because of a perceived decrease in violence.

But an army commander in Srinagar said they would remain on alert for any fresh attacks.

"We will not lower our guard," Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma said.

Key visit

Ahead of the prime minister's visit, a top separatist leader urged Mr Singh to make serious political pledges during his visit, rather than announcing the usual package of economic incentives.

"I would say we are looking forward to a political package for Kashmir which would include the release of prisoners, an end to human rights violations," separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, told the AFP news agency.

On Wednesday the prime minister is due to address a rally in Srinagar, visit the city's historic Hazratbal mosque and also hold meetings with various leaders.

Ahead of Manmohan Singh's visit, Farooq Ahmed, a pro-India militiaman, and four others were shot inside a house in central Badgham district.

In another incident, militants killed the daughter of a pro-India militiaman.

The militiamen are former militants who are now helping Indian troops in their operations against separatists.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says the militants raided a house on Monday night in an attempt to kidnap Mr Ahmad.

When his relatives resisted, the militants fired indiscriminately, killing Mr Ahmad and four others.

Peace talks

India and Pakistan began peace talks this year on a number of issues, including Kashmir.

Last month, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf outlined a series of radical proposals to resolve the Kashmir issue - including removing all troops and jointly administering the territory.

The proposals may figure in talks between the two countries when Pakistan's new Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, makes his maiden visit to India next week.

More than 40,000 people have died in the disputed region since the armed Islamic insurgency began in 1989.


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