India urges Pakistan against meeting Kashmir separatists ahead of security talks

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India said on Friday it has urged Pakistan against meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders ahead of rare 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's 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.

Pakistan said on Friday it push ahead with the meeting despite India's "advice", calling the pro-independence leaders "genuine stakeholders" in efforts to find a solution to the dispute over the Kashmir region.

"Pakistan sees no reason to depart from this established past practice," of meeting leaders ahead of talks, the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said on in a statement.

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

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.

The leaders agreed then that their top security officials would meet to "discuss all issues connected to terrorism", in a resumption of talks between their officials.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and financing militants operating in the Kashmir region divided between the two countries. Islamabad denies the charge and says it only gives them moral and diplomatic support.

In the lead up to the talks, more than six civilians have been killed in an increase in cross-border shootings between their troops in Kashmir.

Three Indian Kashmiri separatist leaders were briefly placed under house arrest on Thursday in the region's main city of Srinagar, but were later released in what Indian media have branded a government flip-flop on the contentious issue.

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 has long argued Pakistan shelters or sponsors militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused of being behind an attack on the financial capital Mumbai that left 166 people dead in 2008.

India has seethed at Pakistan's failure either to hand over or prosecute those accused of planning and organising the attacks. Pakistan says India has failed to give it crucial evidence, such as recordings between the attackers and their handlers.