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67 Killed in Kashmir Attacks

August 2, 2000

PAHALGAM, India (AP) _ Four massacres by suspected Islamic guerrillas opposed to a cease-fire have killed 67 people within a few hours in the disputed territory of Kashmir, police said Wednesday.

The separate attacks came as the Indian federal government prepared to talk to the main guerrilla group in Kashmir, which has been wracked by an Islamic insurgency for 11 years.

Gunmen killed 11 people in the Hindu-dominated village of Pogal in southern Kashmir Wednesday morning, said Police Inspector-General S.P. Vaid of the Jammu district. The village is 108 miles south of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir state.

There were three separate attacks Tuesday evening.

Attackers swooped on the Mir Bazar village late Tuesday near Anantnag, forcing people out of their homes, then lining up men and shooting them dead, said police in Srinagar, 25 miles to the north. Eighteen people were killed, the Press Trust of India reported. Those killed were workers at a brick factory who had migrated from other Indian states, police said.

In Achchabal, about nine miles from Anantnag, militants stormed into houses and killed eight migrant laborers, said Vaid.

The bloodshed came hours after 30 unarmed Hindu pilgrims and Muslims porters were killed Tuesday by the suspected rebels as the group made its way to a religious shrine in the Muslim majority state.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the first attack in Pahalgam, 55 miles south of Srinagar, or the others. But police suspected Islamic guerrillas who oppose a Kashmir cease-fire and seek the region’s independence. It also wasn’t known if the violence was the work of a single group as more than a dozen rebel bands are waging insurgencies.

``It’s an attempt to sabotage the peace process,″ Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, the highest elected official in Kashmir, said following the earlier attack. He said the militants were trying to create confusion at a time when ``a silver lining has started to appear in the dark clouds of violence.″

Abdullah and the federal government have been trying to negotiate with guerrilla groups, notably the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen outfit, which announced a unilateral cease-fire Monday.

Two-thirds of Kashmir is controlled by India and the rest by Pakistan.

The earlier attack came at a makeshift shack near the Ardoo Bridge on the outskirts of town as the pilgrims were eating dinner, Press Trust of India news agency reported.

``First there were some gunshots. ... Soon the security forces also began firing, said Muzaffar Wani, a Muslim businessman who was on the pilgrimage and was hospitalized. ``It was chaotic. We couldn’t see who was firing at us.″

Security forces and police fired back at the gunmen, who fled under cover of darkness, said police and army officials reached by telephone. Two militants and a policeman were among those killed, Kulbushan Jandiyal, director of information of the state government, told The Associated Press.

The pilgrims had been walking to Amarnath Cave, a religious site for Hindus in the mountains that takes two days to reach. The government provides extensive security for pilgrims because of threats from separatists.

Army soldiers and paramilitary soldiers fanned out across the mountains to search for the assailants.

Some 20,000 pilgrims are camping in tents and hotels in Pahalgam, where they begin a 30-mile trek into the mountains.

Many of those killed were porters and men hired to ferry pilgrims on their horses. Most of those hired are Muslim.