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India, Pakistan to begin third round of peace talks
Updated: 2006-01-17 09:03

The dispute over Kashmir and measures to build confidence between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan were the focus Tuesday of their third round of talks in a sweeping peace process, officials said.

The two countries' foreign secretaries headed the talks running through Wednesday in New Delhi, where they will review progress made at lower-level meetings and plot a course for future negotiations, said an Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Natvej Sarna.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan, who arrived in the Indian capital on Monday, said he expected talks with his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran to be positive.

He told reporters he would discuss the Kashmir dispute, peace and security and other issues with Saran.

"I don't want to prejudge the outcome of discussions at this stage," he said.

Earlier, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad that Pakistan is approaching the talks with a "positive frame of mind" and looks forward to making progress on resolving disputes.

Relations between the two neighbors _ long bedeviled by their conflict over Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between them but claimed in its entirety by both _ have improved much since the peace process began in January 2004.

Still, the rivals have made only small steps toward peace since the October 8 earthquake in Kashmir, despite hopes the devastating quake would bring them closer.

Tension has risen since December, when Pakistan accused India of supporting rebels in Pakistan's restive southwestern Baluchistan province. New Delhi denies the allegation.

Tribesmen in gas-rich Baluchistan have been waging an insurgency aimed at getting more royalties for resources extracted in the area. They also oppose government plans to build new military garrisons there.

Pakistan officials have said they plan to raise the matter at the talks _ but asked if it was on the agenda, Sarna said Monday that he did not "want to guess as to what is going to be discussed."

However, he said the foreign secretaries would talk about how to settle the Kashmir dispute and measures the two side could take to build confidence between them.

The rivals have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since the subcontinent was partitioned upon independence from Britain in 1947.

Further complicating matters is an Islamic insurgency that has festered since 1989 in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. India says Pakistan supports the militants from its side of the territory, an accusation Islamabad denies.

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