"We will wait until the end of February to see whether there is any change in the human rights situation in Kashmir.

"If we don't find any change we will pull out of talks with New Delhi," said Maulana Abbas Ansari.

On 22 January, Ansari led five moderate separatists in the first-ever talks with India's Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who gave an assurance Kashmiris' human rights would be respected.

Ansari's threat to break off the already-fragile peace process follows the killing in north Kashmir earlier this month of five civilians allegedly used as human shields by the Indian Army during a gunfight with rebels.

Two days ago, a civilian was allegedly tortured to death in a security camp, while human rights activists allege arbitrary arrests are continuing.

"There are people (in Kashmir and in New Delhi) who want to sabotage the process of peace. We have decided to talk, but that does not mean we will continue to see our people being killed, tortured, arrested and harassed"

Maulana Abbas Ansari,
Kashmiri separatist leader

"There are people (in Kashmir and in New Delhi) who want to sabotage the process of peace," Ansari told a news conference.

He appealed to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani to "reign in troops to end repression in Kashmir".

"We have decided to talk, but that does not mean we will continue to see our people being killed, tortured, arrested and harassed," he said.

Party pulls out

The Peoples Political Front (PPF) of Fazl Al-Haqq Qurashi, one of the five separatists who attended the first round of talks, has already pulled out of future meetings.

Ansari said the "continuing human rights violations by Indian troops" were threatening the prospects of talks over the future of Kashmir, where more than 40,000 people have died since the launch of an anti-Indian separatist rebellion in 1989.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the 23-party separatist coalition in Kashmir, is split between hardliners led by the staunchly pro-Pakistan Sayyid Ali Gilani which have shunned talks with New Delhi, and Ansari's more moderate faction.

Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan.

Both claim it in full and have fought two of their three wars over the picturesque region.