- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

DODA, India — A wave of violence by Islamic militants aimed at Indian-controlled Kashmir’s Hindu minority has left 35 dead, police said yesterday, days ahead of a planned meeting between the divided region’s political separatists and India’s prime minister.

In one village, militants disguised as soldiers coaxed residents from their homes and then fatally shot 22 of them — the single bloodiest attack by Islamic guerrillas in Kashmir since a 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested that the killings would not hamper efforts to find peace in the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan.

“People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly,” Mr. Singh said.

India repeatedly has accused Pakistan of backing the militants, even as the two countries have talked peace. Mr. Singh, however, stopped short of blaming Islamabad for the attack.

A spokeswoman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, Tasnim Aslam, said the killings were “an act of terrorism, and we condemn it.”

Witnesses said more than a half-dozen assailants, some of them in army uniforms, slipped into the village of Thava after dark Sunday and, using local guides, told villagers that they had come to meet residents.

“When we assembled outside the home of the village head, they showered bullets on us,” said Gyan Chand, one of five persons wounded in the attack, from a hospital in Doda, a town near Thava, about 600 miles north of India’s capital, New Delhi.

After the attack, survivors rushed to alert the army, but the assailants fled before security forces arrived, said Sheesh Pal Vaid, a police inspector-general.

For centuries, Kashmir’s Hindus — known as Pandits — lived peacefully alongside the region’s Muslim majority.

But the Pandits have been targeted relentlessly by Islamic insurgents who have been fighting since 1989 to wrest Kashmir from largely Hindu India. Most have fled, many to squalid refugee camps in safer parts of India. An estimated 2,000 Pandits have been killed in the violence, which has claimed nearly 67,000 lives.

The remaining 25,000 Pandits in Kashmir — a tenth of the pre-insurgency population — are subject to frequent attacks, and many live in fear.

“Anything can strike us any time. It is frightening, but life goes on,” said B.L. Warikoo, a Pandit in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s part of Kashmir.

Hours before the village attack, police found the bodies of four out of at least 13 Hindu shepherds abducted over the weekend in Kashmir’s Udhampur district.

Islamic militants have been blamed for the abductions, and authorities found the bodies of nine more shepherds yesterday, said a senior police officer, Rajesh Singh.

A leader of Kashmir’s separatist movement, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called the attack on the village “a deplorable and heinous act.”

His group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is to take part in a previously planned meeting tomorrow between Kashmiri separatists and Mr. Singh.

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