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35 Sikhs Killed in Kashmir

March 21, 2000

SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ Gunmen massacred 35 Sikhs in India’s northern Kashmir state late Monday, even as President Clinton was beginning a visit to the Asian nation, police said.

It was the first major attack on the Sikhs since a Muslim insurgency began 10 years ago in Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim the Himalayan territory and have fought two wars over it.

Clinton _ who arrived in New Delhi, 400 miles to the south, on Monday evening after a visit to Bangladesh _ had said that reducing tensions between India and Pakistan was one of his objectives of the trip.

Indian army officers had said earlier they expected a major operation by pro-separatist militants to draw attention to Kashmir during Clinton’s visit. Many Kashmiris were anticipating that the president’s visit would lead to a breakthrough in the long deadlock on Kashmir’s future.

Gunmen entered the village of Chati Singhpura Mattan after dark Monday and forced the residents from their homes, police officials said on condition of anonymity.

They segregated the men from the women, announcing that they were conducting a ``crackdown.″ Indian security forces operate similarly when searching a neighborhood for militants they suspect may be hiding there.

Then the gunmen opened fire on the men, killing 35 of them. One man was critically wounded and taken to hospital.

``They brought out the males from their homes and shot them at point-blank range,″ said A.K. Bhan, the director general of police. He said the attackers spoke Urdu, the language common in both Kashmir and in Pakistan.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the village, which is about 40 miles from Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital. Army troops began searching the hills and forests nearby for any trace of the assailants.

The Sikh community has lived mostly undisturbed in the Kashmir Valley, the only area in predominantly Hindu India with a Muslim majority. The Sikhs, concentrated in a handful of towns and villages, are generally businessmen and run the trucking companies that supply the valley.

The Sikhs were considered a neutral party in Kashmir and had never before been targeted in the movement to splinter Kashmir from India.

In the last six months, attacks by the militants have focused on army bases and patrols rather than random terrorism, and have shown a higher degree of training and expertise, senior army officers told reporters last week.

They said about 3,500 militants were in Kashmir, and many of them had infiltrated the cease-fire line from Pakistan, with the help of the Pakistan army. Pakistan denied giving active aid to the militants.

The area of the Sikh village is controlled by armed Kashmiri groups which abandoned separatism and were recruited by the Indian army as a counterinsurgency auxiliary force.

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