Authorities in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir are dropping about 1,200 criminal cases against young Kashmiri men for allegedly throwing stones during violent protests against Indian rule last year, officials said.
The amnesty _ offered during a summer of quiet in the usually violence-prone region _ is a "one-time opportunity" meant to give the suspects "an opportunity to be responsible persons and lead a normal life," said the region's top elected official, Omar Abdullah.
He said the young men who benefit should consider the amnesty a "gesture of elders towards the young" and a gift for the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls this week and ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
However, those accused of setting government offices and vehicles on fire will still be prosecuted, he said.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the disputed Himalayan region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety. In the portion controlled by India, officials have largely suppressed a rebellion that broke out in 1989, unleashing violence and inciting crackdowns that left more than 68,000 people dead, most of them civilians.
In recent years, young Kashmiri men have instead staged street protests to demand either independence or a merger with Pakistan. At least 112 people were killed last year as troops fired into the protest crowds. But this summer so far has been calm, allowing for a revival in the mountainous region's famed tourism.
The 1,200 or so men to be cleared have already been released on bail, Abdullah said, without giving an exact number of suspects to be included in the amnesty. Anyone who has evaded arrest would not be included unless they report to police.
A separatist leader dismissed the amnesty as a weak offering for youths who he said were essentially innocent and only reacting to the killings of protesters.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani complained investigations were launched into only 17 of the 112 killings, with none of the officers involved yet prosecuted.
"Its ironic that Omar Abdullah did not even utter a word about the killing of young men last year," Geelani said in a statement. "Their killers are rewarded and roaming freely."