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India, Pakistan to Resume Peace Talks Next Month - 2004-01-06


Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan have agreed to resume official talks on Kashmir and other bilateral issues next month--after a gap of more than two years.

The agreement--announced today (Tuesday) in a joint statement in Islamabad--follows a meeting Monday between visiting Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It was their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years.

Both leaders expressed confidence that the new talks will lead to a peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues between them, including the half-century-old dispute over Kashmir.

Earlier talks ended in a stalemate in July, 2001. The two sides have yet to determine when, where and at what level the new talks will be held.

General Musharraf called the new agreement a victory for all the people of India and Pakistan and gave credit for the deal to what he called the "vision" and statesmanship of Mr. Vajpayee.

In April, the 79-year-old Indian leader launched what he called the final bid in his lifetime for peace between the two countries. In November, the two governments announced a ceasefire in Kashmir.

The nuclear-armed neighbors fought two wars over the disputed Kashmir region and came to the brink of another war in 2001.

But last year, after Mr. Vajpayee's overtures, New Delhi and Islamabad began taking steps to improve relations.

Meanwhile, the three-day South Asian summit hosted by Pakistan and attended by Mr. Vajpayee and five other regional leaders concluded today (Tuesday).

Officials signed an accord to create a regional free trade zone aimed at reducing or eliminating tariffs among the seven nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The seven SAARC countries--Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives--also signed accords aimed at improving human rights and alleviating poverty, as well as an additional protocol to curb financial support for terrorism.

Information for this report is provided by AP and Reuters.

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