Kashmir Rebels Kill Three Members of Pro-India Party

July 27, 2002 - 0:0
SRINAGAR, India -- Suspected separatist guerrillas shot dead three members of disputed Kashmir's ruling party in overnight attacks, police said on Friday, on the eve of a visit to South Asia by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Rebel violence is unabated in the disputed Himalayan region, which is at the center of a seven-month military standoff between India and Pakistan.

The attacks came ahead of Powell's weekend visit to India and Pakistan aimed at calming tensions between the nuclear rivals over Kashmir and nudging them toward peace talks.

"Militants shot dead two National Conference activists at Bachipora," a police official said. Bachipora lies near the town of Magam, west of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

He said gunmen in the nearby village of Kantbagh also killed another National Conference Party activist on Thursday night.

Police said two members of the outlawed Al-Badr militant group were also killed in a fierce gunbattle in Budgam district.

The National Conference, headed by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, is Indian Kashmir's most popular party that supports the plank that the region should be part of India.

Militant assaults in Kashmirm, where India blames Pakistan for stoking a rebellion against its rule, often surge before or during trips to South Asia by diplomatic envoys.

The National Conference is a member of India's federal coalition government headed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and Abdullah has asked for more security forces to be sent to the state ahead of local polls in September and October.

New Delhi is hoping a widely contested, free and fair poll will boost the legitimacy of Indian rule in the region. It has vowed to take tough measures to prevent separatist violence marring the forthcoming polls, Reuters reported.

India has also said it would not end its military deployment along the border with Pakistan until it was convinced Islamabad halts what New Delhi calls trans-border terrorism in Kashmir in the run-up to the elections and beyond.

Pakistan says incursions by rebels from its territory into Indian Kashmir have stopped, but Indian authorities say violence has resumed in recent weeks after a brief lull.

More than 33,000 people have died since the revolt broke out in Muslim-majority Kashmir in 1989.

Separatists put the toll closer to 80,000.