Kashmir separatists shun talks to end violence

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    NEW DELHI, Sep 20 (Agencies): Talks sponsored by the government to end the biggest independence uprising in Kashmir in 20 years appeared on the brink of failure on Monday as separatists boycotted a meeting with New Delhi`s lawmakers.
    Two separatist leaders told Reuters police had put them under house arrest. They had earlier refused to meet the politicians sent by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been criticised for allowing protests in Kashmir to explode with more than 100 killed this summer.
    Police declined to confirm the arrests.
    “We choose not to meet the delegation (and) instead sent a memorandum,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the region`s chief cleric and chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, told Reuters only hours before he was placed under house arrest.
    “We have seen that only when a major crisis erupts, there are visible efforts to engage and understand our aspirations. As soon as immediate crisis subsides, political complacency gets restored.”
    Since the first death in June, Kashmir has been thrown out of gear by strikes and curfews. Schools, colleges and businesses remain shut. Food and medicine are scarce.
    Nearly all the victims have been killed by police bullets, heightening anger against New Delhi.
    Pro-India politicians in the Muslim-majority region met with the lawmakers and asked for concessions, including autonomy for the region and for the repeal of a widely hated law that gives security forces immunity in cases of civilian deaths.
    The ruling National Conference and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party accept Indian rule in Kashmir.
    As New Delhi`s representatives landed in Srinagar, the state`s summer capital, authorities enforced a strict curfew across the region.
    Heavily armed security forces patrolled deserted streets and loudspeakers mounted on police vehicles asked residents to stay indoors in a bid to head off more protests, witnesses said.
    “We are now wary that your visit today, however well-intentioned, represents only an effort at short-term crisis management,” Farooq said in his memorandum.
    Kashmir`s main opposition Peoples` Democratic Party reiterated its call for freeing political prisoners and for the withdrawal of the law on immunity to security forces. The ruling National Conference asked that autonomy be given to the state.
    Prime Minister Singh has been criticised for not taking the protests seriously even as a new generation of Kashmiri youth erupt in anger at living in one of the world`s most militarised regions.
    Militant attacks, which first broke out in 1989, have declined considerably, but street protests have grown.
    While a previous generation of Kashmiris often embraced militancy, a new generation has used street protests, Facebook and mobile phones to spread revolt, mindful of how violence and an army backlash led to more than 47,000 deaths after 1989.
    “Boys pushed to the brink, may pick guns again. The generation which grew up amidst a bloody conflict is capable of prolonging the conflict for many more decades to come,” Firdous Syed wrote in his Greater Kashmir newspaper`s online edition.

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