For the first time in six decades, separatist leaders from Indian-controlled Kashmir arrived Thursday on an official visit to the Pakistani side of the divided Himalayan region in a boost to peace efforts between South Asia's &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/comp/2002/08/19/34777.html ' target=_blank>nuclear rivals.
Nine moderate separatist leaders traveled on a recently inaugurated cross-Kashmir bus service, seeking to push both sides to settle the Kashmir dispute cause of two of the countries' three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
On reaching the militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir, they got off the bus on the Indian side and walked over the "Friendship Bridge" to the Pakistan side where they were greeted by Sardar Sikandar Hayat, prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, tells ABC News.
After a two-day stay, the leaders – mostly from the Hurriyat – will travel to Islamabad to meet with President Gen &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2002/04/09/27445.html ' target=_blank>Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. They will later go to the eastern city of Lahore.
For years, India had opposed the Hurriyat leaders’ visiting Pakistan. But after Islamabad last month invited them, New Delhi agreed to let them travel and issued them passports – a sign of easing tensions since India and Pakistan started peace talks a year-and-a-half ago.
Hundreds of supporters cheered the nine as they departed on the bus earlier today from Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, bound for Muzzafarabad, the capital of the Pakistani portion.
Earlier in Chakothi, the leaders said they wanted Kashmiris to join in the dialogue to resolve the dispute over their region – wracked for the past 16 years by an Islamic insurgency against Indian security forces. The conflict has left more than 66,000 people dead, mostly civilians.