- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

NEW DELHI A militant Hindu group has announced it will accept a compromise plan in its dispute with Muslims on building a temple on a site held holy by both religions.

"I am confident that the temple will be built peacefully, without shedding any blood of either Hindus or Muslims," Ashok Singhal, the international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or the World Hindu Council, told reporters.

Muslim leaders welcomed the remark as a "positive development."

The statements reversed hard-line positions taken earlier by leaders of both sides and threatened to unravel a compromise formula hastily put forward this week.

It was feared that religious violence could break out if the council started building the temple as planned on March 15 in the northern city of Ayodhya. Hindu nationalists want to build the temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque.

The mosque was erected by Moghul emperors, who conquered a large part of India in that century. At the site they chose stood a Hindu temple dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama.

In 1992, the Babri mosque was razed by militant Hindus. Its destruction sparked Hindu-Muslim riots that left about 2,000 people dead. Tensions over the temple plan erupted into violence last week in the western state of Gujarat, and about 680 people died in the fighting.

Mr. Singhal said the Hindu council has given a fresh commitment to abide by the compromise plan.

It calls for the council to symbolically begin construction on March 15 by bringing the temple's first pillars to a spot owned by the government. The location on which there are no conflicting claims is next to the disputed site.

He said the council was "withdrawing" a Wednesday statement, in which the group said it would not abide by an upcoming Supreme Court decision on who owns the disputed land.

The compromise was devised by Jayandra Saraswathi, one of Hinduism's four high religious leaders. He is not a member of the council.

The spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, S.Q.R. Illyas, said the council's latest statement "will certainly make a difference."

Hindus believe their god, Lord Rama, was born on the site of the demolished mosque in Ayodhya, 345 miles east of New Delhi. Muslim leaders want the mosque rebuilt.

Hundreds of policemen are guarding the area to keep away both parties until the Supreme Court straightens out the land-title claims.

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