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Talks give hope for peace in Kashmir

Separatist leaders and India's government called Thursday for an end to violence in Kashmir after their first direct talks since an insurgent revolt against Indian rule in the disputed territory began 14 years ago.

The 2{ hours of talks between members of a moderate faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference and India's hawkish deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, were seen as a good start on what is likely to be a long and difficult effort to resolve one of the world's most dangerous conflicts.

"It was agreed that the only way forward is to ensure that all forms of violence at all levels should come to an end," said a joint statement read by Abdul Ghani Bhat, a veteran separatist leader in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

"The talks were amicable, free, frank and fruitful," the statement said, "and it was agreed that the next round of discussion would take place in the latter part of March."

During the talks, Advani agreed to review a list of political prisoners being held in Indian jails without trial.

The Kashmiri leaders are scheduled to meet today with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who this month agreed to start peace talks with Pakistan over Kashmir and other issues.

Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to Kashmir since first going to war over the territory in 1947, when Britain granted them independence. They have fought three of their four wars over the Himalayan territory and came to the brink of a fourth after India blamed Pakistan for a December 2001 assault on India's Parliament building that left 14 people dead, including the five militants who launched the attack.