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Nearly 50 Killed in Kashmir Attacks

August 2, 2000

SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ Suspected Islamic guerrillas killed nearly 50 people in two separate attacks in India’s troubled Kashmir, authorities said Wednesday.

In the latest violence, the attackers raided a village late Tuesday in the Anantnag area of central Kashmir, lining up and shooting to death 18 men, the Press Trust of India reported.

Those killed were workers at a brick factory who had migrated from other Indian states for work, the agency said.

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

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either attack. But police said they suspected Islamic guerrillas who oppose a Kashmir cease-fire and are fighting for the region’s independence. It also wasn’t known if the violence was the work of a single group. More than a dozen rebel bands are fighting in Kashmir.

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

``It’s an attempt to sabotage the peace process set in motion,″ 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.

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.

Two-thirds of Kashmir is controlled by India and the rest by Pakistan. More than a dozen guerrilla groups have been fighting security forces to make Kashmir independent.

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