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Kashmiri Leaders Visit Pakistan

June 03, 2005|From Associated Press

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — For the first time in six decades, separatist leaders from the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir arrived Thursday on an official visit to the Pakistani-held portion, a boost to peace efforts between South Asia's nuclear rivals.

The nine moderate separatist leaders traveled to the capital of the Pakistani side on a recently inaugurated cross-Kashmir bus service, seeking to push both sides to settle the dispute over the Himalayan territory -- the cause of two of the countries' three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

The group was greeted by Sikandar Hayat Khan, prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, and crowds of well-wishers.

"We have come from one part [of Kashmir] to the other. This is our own homeland," said Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference alliance.

Hundreds of people watched from the road or rooftops, chanting, "Welcome! Welcome!" Some shouted slogans for Kashmir's independence, others for its merger with Pakistan.

Farooq and the other eight separatist leaders said they supported the peace process between the two nations. Speaking at a joint news conference, they urged leaders on both sides to include representatives of Kashmir in talks.

After a two-day stay, the leaders, mostly from the Hurriyat, will travel to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, to meet with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. They will later go to Lahore.

For years, India had opposed the Hurriyat leaders' visiting Pakistan. Its approval now is seen as a sign of easing tensions since peace talks began a year and a half ago.

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