NEW DELHI (AFP) — India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned Wednesday his government would take stern action to stamp out rights abuses in Kashmir and offered talks with separatists in the disputed region. “If there is any violation of human rights, we will take effective action,” Singh said while returning from a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. The government “is committed to zero tolerance” of human rights violations, he told accompanying reporters.
The warning came in response to questions on protests last month over the suspected rape and murder of two local Muslim women in Kashmir, allegedly by members of the Indian troopers.
The prime minister described the rape and murder as “very unfortunate,” the Press Trust of India reported.
“Once the new central government settles down, it will take a fresh look at the problems,” Singh said, adding that he was ready to hold talks with regional politicians as well as anti-India separatists in Kashmir.
“We would be happy to engage in dialogue with any group which is interested in talking. That option remains.
“We will welcome even those who are not in the political mainstream and if they have any views, they are welcome to give (them),” he said.
The comments are seen as a re-endorsement of the promised policy on Kashmir of Singh’s ruling Congress party which returned to power in May for a second five-year term.
“I have not given up hope on Jammu and Kashmir,” Singh said, noting that in recent years he held two rounds of talks with Kashmir’s Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella forum of separatist groupings.
“We are willing to engage in dialogue with anyone who is ready to shun violence,” the prime minister said in an apparent olive branch to hardline leaders in the Conference.
The promise came less than a week after Home Minister P. Chidambaram promised to phase out the presence of large numbers of troops from towns across Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Such a move would be the first time the armed forces have been pulled out of urban areas in the region, which is disputed by India and Pakistan, since an insurgency against Indian rule broke out in 1989.
Singh described Chidambaram’s announcement as an “important statement.”
The presence of the military in Kashmir has long been a source of tension in the region. For the past two decades, Indian troops have regularly been accused of rights violations including rape, murder and torture.