Tue Nov 28, 2006
By Palash Kumar
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A leading Kashmiri separatist will visit Northern Ireland next month to study the Irish peace process and see if lessons can be drawn to help resolve the Kashmir dispute, he said on Tuesday.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (freedom) Conference — an alliance of nearly two dozen separatist groups — said he would visit from Dec. 11.
"We have been saying that other disputes around the world can give us an insight," Farooq told Reuters by telephone from Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital.
"I think Kashmir and Northern Ireland do have similarities — the fact that it's the will of the people to be their own masters and not under the hegemony of one party or the other.
"If you look at Ireland, it has moved from confrontation to cooperation. That is what we have to do," he added.
Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas led a bloody conflict from the late 1960s to end British rule of Northern Ireland, oust British forces from the province and create an all-Ireland republic.
The violence widened divisions between the region's majority Protestants, who wanted to stay part of Britain, and the minority Roman Catholics, who leaned towards union with Ireland.
A landmark agreement in 1998 sought to end the conflict which killed more than 3,600 people. The power-sharing accord created a Northern Ireland Assembly and in July this year, the IRA said it was downing its arms.
Implementation of the accord has been difficult but the violence has largely ended.
A separatist revolt against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir has raged since 1989. Muslim militants want independence for the region from Hindu-majority India or merger with Pakistan.
Officials say more than 45,000 people have died but separatists say the toll is twice as high.
The six-decade-old dispute is rooted in the region's division between arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and came close to a fourth in 2002.
Since 2004, they have been in revived peace talks aimed at resolving the dispute but the dialogue has made little progress.
The Hurriyat, which claims to represent the people of the strife-torn region, has also held talks with the Indian government with little apparent result.
Farooq said he would share his findings from Northern Ireland with his group and might also prepare a report which could be shared with the governments of India and Pakistan.
"This is the first visit by the Hurriyat to study the Irish peace process. We have been talking about it but this is the first serious attempt to study it," he said.
A spokeswoman of the British High Commission in New Delhi said Farooq's visit was part of the British Foreign Office's "regular sponsored visit programme".