Militants Enforce Strike As Curfew Lifted in Kashmir
SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ The government today lifted curfew for several hours, but shops remained closed because of a strike called by Moslem militants leading a secessionist campaign in Jammu-Kashmir state, witnesses said.
The Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front spread the strike call by word of mouth on Friday night and early today, local journalists said, quoting shopkeepers in downtown Srinagar and its suburbs.
The front is spearheading the four-decade-old campaign for secession of Jammu-Kashmir state’s predominantly Moslem Kashmir region.
At least 76 people have been killed since the government began cracking down on the increasingly violent secessionist movement Jan. 20.
Most of those killed during the crackdown were curfew-breaking militants shot by the security forces.
The government reported no deaths between Jan. 25 and Friday, when at least four people were killed.
Three of them died when police opened fire on a mob defying curfew in neighboring Sopore, police said. The fourth was a Hindu shopkeeper who was shot by the militants, according to Gov. Jagmohan, who uses only one name.
Today’s strike in Srinagar was to protest the Sopore deaths, Kaiser Mirza, a local journalist, quoted the shopkeepers as saying. The curfew relaxation began at 5 a.m. and was scheduled to end at 5 p.m.
Mirza said most shops did not open in the morning when curfew was lifted and a few shops that did open soon put down their shutters when owners learned of the general strike call.
It was not immediately clear if the shops were closed fearing attacks by the militants or to sympathize with the separatist cause.
During earlier curfew relaxations, which began one week ago, vegetable shops and groceries were crowded and streets were filled with people and traffic. This morning, small groups of men stood at the street corners but little traffic moved on the streets, Mirza said.
The Moslem militancy dates back to 1948 when the Hindu maharajah of mostly Moslem Jammu-Kashmir opted for union with predominantly Hindu India.
Pakistan, born out of a 1947 division of the Indian subcontinent, objected saying a Moslem area should go to predominantly Moslem Pakistan.
Two wars over Kashmir left a slice of the old royal state under Pakistani control, while the rest remained part of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state.
Jammu-Kashmir, with 64 percent of its 5 million people following Islam, is the only Moslem majority area among India’s 25 states. Nationwide, Moslems account for 12 percent of the 880 million population.
Kashmiri militants at first demanded union with Pakistan but have recently campaigned for a separate neutral country which if formed would nestle between India, Pakistan and China.