WORLD / Asia-Pacific

35 Hindus massacred in Kashmir
Updated: 2006-05-01 21:12

Suspected Islamic militants shot dead at least 35 Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir ahead of crucial talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kashmiri separatists, officials and police said on Monday.

An injured man is taken to a hospital in the northern Indian city of Jammu May 1, 2006. Suspected Islamic militants shot dead at least 22 Hindus in two small villages in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday, officials said. [Reuters]

In one of the bloodiest massacres in recent months, militants struck two remote Hindu-dominated mountainous villages in Doda district, some 170 km (100 miles) northeast of Jammu, Kashmir's winter capital, early on Monday, and gunned down 22 Hindus.

On the same day, bullet-ridden bodies of nine Hindus were recovered from neighboring Udhampur district. Police said the dead were Hindu cattle herdsmen reportedly kidnapped by suspected militants late on Sunday.

Four of them were found dead on Sunday itself.

No militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Prime Minister Singh, who is due to meet Kashmiri separatists on Wednesday and would travel to the violent region later this month for a Kashmir "roundtable," condemned the attack.

"People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly," Singh said.

Witnesses of the Doda attack told a chilling story of a midnight knock followed by bursts of gunshots.

"It was a late hour knock," Rakesh Kumar said. "I told my brother not to open the door but he didn't listen and was whisked away to a nearby spot where he was shot."

He said the militants, some dressed in police uniforms while others in traditional Kashmiri dress -- a long, loose shirt and trousers -- split themselves into two groups before opening fire.

"They attacked two localities simultaneously," he said, adding there are more than 500 families live in the area, a majority of them Hindus.

Gulzar Ahmed Qureshi, a top Doda official, told Reuters the villagers were asked to assemble outside the house of the village head and later shot dead. "Yes, they are all Hindus," he added.

One wounded man told Sahara News television channel over the telephone that militants "took one man from each house."

"The others they told to go inside. They said they would set us free later. After going some distance, they started beating us up and then opened fire," the witness said.

The Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri militant group, denied any role in the attack.

"We strongly condemn these killings which seem to be a conspiracy of Indian security agencies to malign the ongoing freedom struggle and mujahideens (holy warriors)," a spokesman of the group said in telephone calls to local newspaper offices in Srinagar, the state's summer capital.


Militant violence has increased in Kashmir in recent weeks with the onset of summer when snow melts in the region's mountain passes, allowing easier movement of militants between the two zones of Kashmir split between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by both.

Tens of thousands have been killed in the scenic Himalayan region since an Islamic revolt began in 1989 against Indian rule. Thousands of Hindus have fled the state over the years.

Overall violence in the region has fallen due to a peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi which began in 2004.

In a bid to take the peace process forward, Prime Minister Singh is due to meet leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of two dozen Kashmiri separatist parties.

Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq condemned the attack, terming it "an act of terrorism." The Singh-Hurriyat talks are being seen as an ice-breaker ahead of Singh's "roundtable" with Kashmiris in Srinagar.

"This has not gone well with people who don't want the peace process to succeed," said Kashmir's chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad.