India - India is withdrawing about 15,000 soldiers from Jammu and Kashmir, a military official said Thursday, in a move aimed at boosting prospects of peace talks with the disputed region's separatist groups.

India has been under international pressure in recent months to reduce tensions along its Pakistan border particularly Kashmir so that Islamabad could focus on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan.

But military analysts said the slight thinning of troops in the Jammu region was linked with ongoing efforts to resume talks with Kashmir's separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference rather than extending an olive branch to Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists urged New Delhi to pull out troops, release prisoners and end alleged human rights violations after the Indian government offered to resume talks this month to end a two-decade insurgency.

A military spokesman said one army division was being moved in a phased manner since September from the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch because of improvement in the security situation. It wasn't clear if these were troops deployed on the border or on internal security duties.

The readjustment and relocation of troops is subject to security reviews and periodic assessment of ground situation, Lt. Col. Biplab Nath said.

The troops who are being moved out are in the Jammu region and not the Kashmir Valley which is the centre of the revolt.

Violence is now at its lowest in Kashmir since a separatist insurgency against Indian rule in the region broke out in 1989, but officials say incidents of infiltration of militants from Pakistan have risen over the past few months.

Ashok Mehta, a retired army general and New Delhi-based strategic analyst, said the removal of troops was a goodwill gesture aimed at Kashmiri groups.
The current de-induction of troops has nothing to do with the Afghanistan war, he said.

The announcement of the troop movement came as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is touring Kashmir said the security of the disputed region must rest in the hands of police.

The responsibility for maintaining law and order in the state will be increasingly devolved on the Jammu and Kashmir police, he said.

India moved about 4,000 soldiers from its Pakistan border in Kashmir in March. There are an estimated half a million Indian security personnel, including soldiers, deployed in Kashmir.

Deployment and redeployment is based on threat perceptions and this particular army division has moved out as the situation is better, said Col S. Om Singh, another army spokesman.

A faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference began a dialogue with the government in 2004, the first since the beginning of the insurgency, but it broke down two years later.

(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani)