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Pakistan Says U.S. Move To Outlaw Kashmir Separatist Group 'Unjustified'

PAKISTAN -- Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin addresses a protest rally against the killings in Indian-administered Kashmir, in Lahore last month.

Pakistan has criticized the United States for designating the Kashmiri separatist organization Hizb ul-Mujahideen a terrorist group, saying the move was "completely unjustified."

The State Department on August 16 added the group to its blacklist of terrorist organizations, effectively banning U.S. citizens and residents from dealing with the group and ordering the freezing of any assets found in areas under U.S. jurisdiction.

"We are disappointed at the U.S. decision. The designation of individuals or groups supporting the Kashmiris' right to self-determination as terrorists is completely unjustified," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria told a news briefing in Islamabad on August 17.

Hizb ul-Mujahideen is the largest of Kashmir's militant groups.

U.S. authorities designated the group's leader and founder, Syed Salahuddin, a "global terrorist" in June ahead of a visit to Washington by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But Salahuddin, who has vowed to continue fighting until India relinquishes control of the part of Kashmir that it holds, is still able to operate in Pakistani Kashmir, where his group has strong support.

The U.S. designation comes the week that both India and Pakistan mark 70 years of independence from the British Empire -- and the start of a bitter rivalry and decades of conflict over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, over which the two nuclear-armed countries have fought three wars.

Rebel groups have been operating in Indian Kashmir since 1989, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan, and tens of thousands of people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed.

On August 12, two Indian soldiers and three rebels were killed in a gunbattle after counterinsurgency forces surrounded separatists in a village just south of Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city.

With reporting by AP and Reuters