India urges Pakistan against meeting separatists

NEW DELHI - India said Friday it has urged Pakistan against meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders ahead of rare weekend talks between the two countries' top security advisers in New Delhi, hiking tensions between the arch rivals.

The foreign ministry said it would be inappropriate for Pakistan National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz to hold the meeting on Sunday in Delhi just before scheduled talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

India cancelled talks with Pakistan last year between their foreign secretaries, outraged over a similar meeting that took place, a move that set back already tense relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

"India has advised Pakistan yesterday that it would not be appropriate for Mr Sartaz Aziz to meet with Hurriyat (separatist) representatives in India," foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said on Twitter.

"Such a meeting would not be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Ufa understanding to jointly work to combat terrorism." Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during a visit to the Russian city of Ufa last month, with the hour-long talks seen as a new thaw in ties between the countries.

Separatist leaders from Indian-administered Kashmir said this week they were invited to meet Aziz on Sunday, just before the top security officials are due to hold their talks.

Pakistan has in the past described such meetings with pro-independence leaders as a "longstanding practice" to "facilitate meaningful discussions".

More than six civilians have been killed in an increase in cross-border shootings between the two countries' troops in disputed Kashmir in the lead-up to the talks.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the Himalayan region since both gained independence in 1947, and it remains a major source of tension for the two countries.

About a dozen militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for either the independence of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and financing the militants. Islamabad denies the charge and says it only gives them moral and diplomatic support.

On Thursday, three Indian Kashmiri separatist leaders were briefly placed under house arrest in the region's main city of Srinagar but were later released in what was seen by Indian media as a government flip-flop on the contentious issue.