DATE=7/25/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=INDIA/KASHMIR (L-O) NUMBER=2-264775 BYLINE=ANJANA PASRICHA DATELINE=NEW DELHI INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: India has cautiously welcomed a ceasefire offer by a prominent, pro-Pakistan militant group in the northern, insurgency-wracked Kashmir valley. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, several other Muslim separatist groups have vowed to carry on their armed struggle in for independence in Indian Kashmir. TEXT: The ceasefire announced by the Muslim militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen came into effect in Kashmir Tuesday, according to the group's chief commander Abdul Majid Dar. The Hizbul Mujahideen has been in the forefront of the decade-long Muslim separatist movement in Indian Kashmir - and its offer to suspend its armed campaign for three months has come as a surprise. The group says the ceasefire could pave the way for a dialogue with the Indian government. New Delhi has reacted cautiously to Hizbul Mujahideen's announcment. A spokesman of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has welcomed the ceasefire announcement. Mr. Vajpayee says the government is willing to talk to anyone within the framework of the Indian constitution. In a television interview, Defense Minister George Fernandes described it as a "positive sign", and said it indicates that Kashmiris are disillusioned with militancy. But the government has not responded to the group's demand to end the crackdown by security forces on Kashmiri militants. A Home Ministry spokesman has said the government will watch the situation, and see if the group sticks to its offer. /// OPTIONAL /// Opposition political parties have also reacted with guarded optimism. The Kashmir wing of the Congress party said the ceasefire announcement is a "significant development" that could help in establishing a dialogue with the militants. In the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar, people have reacted with disbelief to the Hizbul Mujahideen's ceasefire offer. They say they are uncertain if it will help in restoring peace to the valley. /// END OPT /// In recent months, New Delhi has been searching for a political solution to the Kashmir insurgency. The government has freed several separatist leaders from prison in a bid to start talks - but it has ruled out any dialogue on Kashmir's secession from India. Political observers are describing the Hizbul Mujahideen's offer of a ceasefire as significant since it comes from one of the hardline groups spearheading the Kashmiri militant movement. But they point out that other prominent militant groups which are active in the valley, such as the Lakshar-e-Toiba, have vowed to continue their armed campaign in Kashmir -- a disputed territory divided between India and Pakistan. More than 30,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since the insurgency flared in 1989. Since then tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed in the region to fight the militants. (SIGNED) NEB/AP/KBK 25-Jul-2000 10:15 AM EDT (25-Jul-2000 1415 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .