Kashmir separatists reject India's proposal to defuse deadly civil unrest

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Kashmiri separatist leaders on Sunday rejected India's offer to release hundreds of young detainees and review the massive deployment of security forces in the Himalayan territory to defuse deadly civil unrest.

At least 107 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s, have died in a crackdown by security forces on often-violent demonstrations since June, with every death stoking public anger and more protests.

Authorities relaxed a rigid curfew for several hours on Sunday in Srinagar, the main city in the region, and seven main towns following a pause in the unrest. Thousands of people crowded markets to stock up on food and other essentials.

The mountainous region is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian rule and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

India offered Saturday to urge authorities to release detainees and review deployment of security forces, and to hold talks with all stake-holders in the part of Kashmir it holds. The steps "should address the concerns of different sections of people, including protesters," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

New Delhi's proposal follows a visit to Kashmir by about 40 lawmakers from major Indian political parties to seek ways to end the turmoil. India has also offered compensation of 500,000 rupees ($10,800) to each of the families of those killed since June 11.

The separatists, however, rejected the Indian government's proposals.

"The so-called political package by New Delhi is a time-gaining exercise, unrealistic and mere eyewash," said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a top separatist leader who is spearheading the "Quit Kashmir" campaign against Indian rule.

"India is wrongly mistaken if it thinks it can buy peace in Kashmir by releasing a few students and paying ex-gratia relief to the families of martyrs," Geelani said, referring to those killed by Indian security forces.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, another separatist leader, said India's initiative was inadequate because all parties were not being consulted.

"Our focus is on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi's latest initiative is not going to change anything in that relation as the dispute involves three parties, Kashmiris, India and Pakistan," Farooq told The Associated Press.

Farooq urged India and Pakistan to set up Kashmir committees made up of lawmakers that could work to resolve the Kashmir issue by involving separatist leaders.

Since 1989, an armed uprising and an ensuing crackdown by Indian security forces have killed an estimated 68,000 people in Indian-held Kashmir. While that rebellion has been largely suppressed, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and the resistance is now principally through street demonstrations.