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Killing, Grenade Blast Mars Kashmir

December 1, 2000

SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ A former militant was gunned down Friday in Kashmir and a grenade exploded in a town’s shopping district, adding to violence that has marred a unilateral cease-fire in the Himalayan province.

India declared the truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, framing the move as a bid to bring armed separatists based in neighboring Pakistan to the peace table.

But the militants rejected the cease-fire, and 15 people have been killed since it went into effect Tuesday.

Noor Mohammed Bhatt, an activist with the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, a guerrilla group that has laid down its arms, was shot dead Friday by unidentified assailants.

Suspected militants exploded a hand grenade in a shopping district of Pattan, about 20 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state. Seven civilians were wounded.

In Srinagar, two car bombs exploded in Jehangir Square. No one was injured. The first blast happened when a timing device concealed under a car hood went off, said police officer Ayaz Mir. While paramilitary forces cordoned off the area, an explosion blew up a second car.

The cease-fire was further called into question when Kashmir’s new police chief, A.K. Suri, said he would not suspend operations against the militants. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had ordered all operations against the militants suspended.

``If I get the specific information that the militants are hiding in a place or they have arms and ammunition, I will deal with it as a common crime,″ Suri said. ``I will go out and apprehend them.″

Kashmir’s main opposition political group has welcomed the cease-fire and has tried to persuade a Pakistan-based alliance of 14 militant groups to accept the truce. Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, conceded that little had been achieved but said he was still hopeful.

``The cease-fire is unilateral and these things can happen,″ Bhat said of the car bombings. ``We need not lose heart. We have to move towards a breakthrough.″

At Friday prayers, Kashmir’s highest Islamic leader prayed for Islamic martyrs.

``May Allah give success to those who are fighting for the cause of religion and freedom,″ Omar Farooq told his followers. ``Our freedom struggle is at a decisive state.″

Then he shouted: ``What do we want?″

``Freedom!″ thousands of people roared back.

``This is not a border dispute, this is the question of the future of millions of Kashmiris,″ Farooq said. ``It can’t be solved by military action. We will continue our struggle until we get the right of self determination.″

Since Britain carved up the subcontinent in 1947, both India and Pakistan have claimed all of Kashmir and fought two of their three wars over it. At least 30,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1989, though human rights officials say the number is at least double that.

Some Pakistan-based separatists want independence, others a merger with Pakistan. They also want Pakistan’s government included in peace talks. India has refused to talk to Pakistan, which it says arms and funds the militants.

Kashmir’s largest Pakistan-based guerrilla group, Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, offered a cease-fire in July. The Indian government accepted the offer, but the initiative failed after India rejected the demand that Pakistan be included in peace talks.

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