//Ready to talk to militants if they shun arms, says Manmohan

Ready to talk to militants if they shun arms, says Manmohan

Shujaat Bukhari, Hindu, 26 May 2006

Reduction in troops could be considered if terrorist violence comes down

SRINAGAR: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday that his Government was "ready to talk to militant groups if they shun the path of violence."

Stating that "our armed forces are not the forces of occupation," he said reduction in troops could be considered if the terrorist violence came down.

"Anybody who shuns violence and gives up the path of terror, we are willing to find ways and means to interact with all such groups," Dr. Manmohan Singh told a press conference shortly before returning to New Delhi.

He expressed the hope that those who did not attend the round table conference this time would change their stance. Responding to a question on the Hurriyat Conference boycotting the conference he said "I have not lost hope and I am confident that all those who are for a peaceful solution to the problem faced by the State will work together."

He said that during his meeting with the Hurriyat leaders he got the impression that they were in favour of this conference and would consider attending. "We all must put wisdom and knowledge together to put an end to this chapter."

The Prime Minister ruled out immediate reduction in troops as demanded by some political parties and said "our troops are here to protect the life and liberty of our citizens. If the basic cause for their presence is removed, we can consider all these options."

The Prime Minister said if terrorism decreased, "there is no reason for us to keep the armed forces in the same number" and the matter was being constantly looked into by the Government.

While responding to a question on disappearance of thousands of Kashmiri youths during the 16 years of militancy, he said there was no specific discussion on the issue at the round table. "But I think there are possibilities of taking on board this issue in one of the working groups (set up by the Government on Thursday) dealing with confidence-building measures."