- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

'False, hurtful' remarks

Indian Ambassador Lalit Mansingh has accused three members of Congress of slandering his country with claims of systematic Indian abuse of its Sikh, Muslim and Christian citizens.

Mr. Mansingh confronted three of India's most vocal critics in the House Republican Dan Burton of Indiana and Democrats Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia and Edolphus Towns of New York in recent letters in which he complained of "brazenly false allegations" they entered into the Congressional Record last month on the 303rd anniversary of the Sikh religion.

Mr. Towns asserted the Indian government has murdered 250,000 Sikhs and imprisoned 50,000 on political charges. Mrs. McKinney said Indian authorities allowed Hindus to massacre Muslims in an outbreak of communal violence in February, and Mr. Burton urged the Bush administration to cut off aid to India.

The ambassador noted that Mr. Towns' comments on April 9 continue "the pattern of false and hurtful statements that you have made in the past about my country in the pages of the Record."

"The allegation that Sikhs are being murdered by the government is not given any credibility by any independent, internationally recognized human rights organization," he wrote. "It is equally untrue that Sikhs are being held in illegal detention or as political prisoners in India."

He dismissed Mrs. McKinney's statement that Indian authorities "stood by and let the carnage happen" in February, when Hindu militants attacked Muslims in a revenge killing for the slaying of Hindus in the Indian state of Gujarat.

Mr. Mansingh said 30,000 people have been arrested in both attacks and 80 percent of those detained are Hindus.

"What I find most disturbing in your statement is the suggestion that India's government condones or even promotes attacks on minorities," he wrote. "This is not only a slander against the government, it demeans hundreds of millions of Indians from diverse communities who are committed to and justifiably proud of India's secular democracy.

"All citizens of India irrespective of their religion, ethnic background or linguistic or social group they may belong to enjoy equal rights and equal protection of law," he added

Mrs. McKinney, quoting the News India-Times, said India is paying twice as much compensation to Hindu victims of the violence than to Muslim victims.

"I think it is offensive that a country that claims it is democratic thinks that the life of one person or group is twice as valuable as that of another person or group," she said.

Mr. Mansingh said the compensation is equal at about $2,000 per victim.

He also rejected Mr. Burton's call for a referendum on independence for Punjab or Kashmir, an Indian-controlled area with a Muslim majority.

Mr. Mansingh noted that citizens of those states "have enjoyed the benefits of democracy and have participated in all the elections at the national, state and local levels."

Mr. Burton, chairman of the International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said, "The time has come for American to cut off its aid to India."

Yemeni verdict soon

A court in Yemen is expected to rule this week on the case of a man accused of throwing hand grenades at the U.S. Embassy.

Samir Yahia Awadh, a 25-year-old grocer, has pleaded not guilty to charges of endangering lives and damaging the foreign relations of Yemen for the March 15 attack, the day after Vice President Richard B. Cheney visited the country. Mr. Awadh is accused of throwing two grenades at the embassy, although the attack caused no injuries.

He recanted an earlier confession in which he admitted to police that he planned the attack two months in advance and acted in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Mr. Awadh said the confession was extracted under police pressure.

Prosecutor Said Samet had demanded the maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

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