NATIONAL

Separatists welcome Centre's initiative

Srinagar Oct. 22. Separatists in Kashmir have welcomed the Centre's move of appointing the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, as its representative to hold talks with the Hurriyat Conference. The only dissenting note was struck by the chairman of the breakaway faction of the conglomerate led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The Ansari-led Hurriyat welcomed the talks offer and termed it as positive. An emergency meeting of the faction's executive council is being held here tomorrow after its chief, Moulvi Abbas Ansari, returns from New Delhi.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who supports the Ansari faction, said that "we welcome the new proposal as its comes from the topmost leadership of the Central Government. We would soon discuss the issue and respond to the invitation extended to us. It is time everyone contributed to end the vicious cycle of violence and peace returned to the State. We would surely not disappoint the people of the State and act according to their wishes." He welcomed the proposal to open the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road network as it would be a great relief to the divided families on both sides of the Line of Control.

Though all the separatists welcomed the initiatives, Mr. Geelani had some reservations. He told The Hindu that "talks should be result-oriented and there is need for the acceptance of basic realities. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir can only be solved in triangular talks by including Pakistan. We won't participate in the talks if the Central Government does not accept the proposals."

Mainstream parties such as the PDP and National Conference welcomed the decision. The NC president, Omar Abdullah, said "The offer of the Central Government is late but the NC welcomes it. We would support any sincere step by the Central Government in starting a dialogue".

A golden opportunity: Mufti

Describing the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, to hold talks with the Hurriyat Conference on the Kashmir problem as a ``golden opportunity'', the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, today expressed the hope that the separatists would respond positively.

Mr. Sayeed said it was the ``happiest day'' for him since coming to power last year as the demand of the people for talks at the highest level had been fulfilled.

The Mufti said the separatists should not miss the opportunity for restoring peace in the State as the Centre had offered unconditional dialogue.

The Chief Minister, who has been advocating unconditional talks with all sections of society, including the separatists, said people of the State wanted ``dignified peace'' and the Centre had opened the doors for this.

Asked about the breakaway Hurriyat Conference chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani's rejection of the offer, Mr. Sayeed said this was not in favour of the people. "If you start making demands, then the dialogue does not remain unconditional,'' he said. — PTI

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