Separatist leaders in Kashmir welcomed Wednesday the one-month extension of the Indian security forces' cease-fire, but stressed the need for a permanent peace in the region.
"We welcome the extension of the cease-fire if it is aimed at resolving the issue of Kashmir forever," said Abdul Gani Lone, a senior leader of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference.
"If the cease-fire has been extended with a goal to start negotiations on Kashmir it is a healthy development," Lone said.
Indian security forces had suspended operations against Muslim militant groups in Kashmir on midnight November 27 for the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced the one-month extension in the lower house of parliament in New Delhi.
Lone said the Hurriyat executive committee would meet on Thursday to discuss Vajpayee's announcement and unify its stance on future peace talks.
Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, who heads the separatist Jamaat-e-Islami group, said the ceasefire extension should only be taken as a stepping stone.
"The process should not remain confined to the ceasefire alone," Bhat said.
"Efforts should be made to move forward in positive direction so as to find an everlasting resolution of the basic issue."
Separatist leader Fazal Haque Qureshi, who brokered talks between New Delhi and the main Kashmir militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, in July, said the Indian government would have to accept the necessity of opening a dialogue with Pakistan.
"If India agrees to Pakistan's involvement in talks we may soon see a permanent peace," Qureshi said.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a border conflict over Kashmir, since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
The current cease-fire is the first to have been offered by New Delhi in Indian Kashmir since the outbreak in 1989 of the separatist insurgency that has claimed 34,000 lives -- SRINAGAR (AFP)
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