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Sikh Militants Kill 35 in Year’s Worst Violence

April 1, 1988

PANGOTA, India (AP) _ Sikh gunmen stormed into huts and houses across Punjab state on Friday and killed 37 people, including seven children, in the bloodiest one-day murder spree this year, police and witnesses said.

Police in Amritsar imposed a night curfew in parts of the region. In New Delhi, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi met government officials and ordered stringent steps to check Sikh violence, United News of India reported.

Gandhi also ordered new police alerts in five states that adjoin Punjab.

In Amritsar, two Hindu organizations called for a daylong strike in the district on Saturday to protest the killings, UNI said. Most of the victims were Hindus.

The attacks began Thursday night, hours after an umbrella organization heading the Sikh separatist movement called for a halt to the killings of moderate Sikhs.

The worst attack occured at a hamlet near Pangota, 25 miles north of Amritsar. Twelve gunmen raided the mud huts of a Hindu laborer commune and murdered 18 people, said S.S. Virk, deputy inspector general of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force.

″I heard the killers ordering us to get out of our huts, I hid myself ... and moments later I heard sound of gunfire and screams,″ said Tara Singh, 45.

Fifteen people were lined up and shot, and a 23-year-old pregnant woman, a 6-month-old baby girl and an 80-year-old woman were shot and killed in their hut when the killers saw they could not walk, Virk said.

He said all the victims were related.

At Shaeed village, six miles west of Pangota, another group of militants shot and killed six people, Virk said. The victims, all Hindus, included a 2- year-old boy. The assailants broke into the homes and shot the victims in their beds.

The killers murdered a Sikh couple in nearby Verowal town after leaving Shaeed, the officer said.

UNI said suspected Sikh radicals shot and killed two people in Gurdaspur district Friday.

An officer at the state police control in Chandigarh said elsewhere in Punjab, nine other people were killed by suspected Sikhs late Thursday and early Friday.

An underground organization formed to achieve an independent Sikh nation called on militant groups to cease random killings of moderate Sikhs.

At least 330 of the 618 people killed this year in Sikh attacks have been moderates who do not support the militants’ demand for an independent homeland in Sikh-dominated Punjab.

Sikhs are a religous minority in India, comprising only 2 percent of the total population, and claim they are discriminated against by Hindus. Militants hae been fighting for a Sikh state since 1983.

The Council of Khalistan issued the statement from Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine and the center of militant activity. Khalistan is the name the militants give to their envisioned homeland.

The attacks brought the number of people killed in random attacks this week to more than 80. Most of the killings have been near Amritsar.

The spurt in violence is blamed on differences within militant groups and an attempt to sabotage government moves to reach an accord with the militants.

The government last month released 12 Sikh leaders jailed for sedition and dissolved the Punjab state assembly in what was seen as an attempt to enroll the militants in politics.

But sources in the Golden Temple, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some militants opposed the plan since it would not give the Sikhs total autonomy.

Punjab Gov. S.S. Ray said in a recent interview, ″I have seen that whenever a good thing is proposed to be done about Punjab ... anti-national terrorists indulge in an orgy of violence thereby trying to prevent anything from being done.″