Indian gov't offers detainee releases, review of security in bid to defuse Kashmir unrest

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian government said Saturday it will ask authorities to release hundreds of students and youths detained during months of civil unrest that has left at least 107 people dead in Kashmir and review the massive deployment of security forces there.

The government also offered a dialogue, saying it would appoint interlocutors to talk to all stakeholders in the Indian-controlled portion of the divided Himalayan region, where many oppose Indian rule. It stopped short of offering direct talks with separatist leaders.

These "steps should address the concerns of different sections of people, including protesters," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

At least 107 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s, have died in the crackdown by security forces on often-violent demonstrations since June, with every death stoking public anger and more protests. The government's proposals follow a visit by nearly 40 lawmakers from major Indian national parties to seek ways to end the unrest.

Chidambaram said New Delhi would advise the state government to "immediately release all students and youth detained or arrested for pelting stones and withdraw charges against them." There are believed to be hundreds of such detainees.

He also advised the state government to review the cases of all those detained under the Public Security Act which empowers authorities to detain people for two years without trial. Hundreds more people are believed held under this law.

He also announced a compensation of 500,000 rupees ($10,800) each to the families of those killed since June.

On the presence of troops, Chidambaram said New Delhi would also ask the state government to convene a meeting of the army and security forces unified command "to review deployment of security forces in the Kashmir Valley." He said particular attention would be paid to reducing the number of bunkers and checkpoints in the main city of Srinagar and other towns.

There was no immediate comment on the proposals by separatist leaders who had met some of the visiting lawmakers. At the time, they dismissed the visit as grandstanding by the Indian government.

Nearly a dozen rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for independence of the Indian portion of Kashmir or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

In recent years, the insurgency in Kashmir has waned, but hundreds of thousands of security forces remain deployed in the region, and the past three summers have seen widespread civil unrest.

Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir — where most of the population are Muslims — since they won independence from Britian in 1947. Kashmir is divided between the archrival nations but both claim all of it. All efforts to negotiate a resolution to the dispute have failed.