Child pilgrims killed in Kashmir

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The Independent Online

Three children were killed when Islamic radicals attacked a party of Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir in one of several raids at the weekend that claimed a total of 21 lives.

Three children were killed when Islamic radicals attacked a party of Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir in one of several raids at the weekend that claimed a total of 21 lives.

Hundreds of Hindu pilgrims were clambering down a mountain track from the shrine of Hadha Mata in Kashmir on Saturday when Islamic radicals flung hand grenades and opened fire on them.

Police replied with gunfire and the ensuing firefight lasted several hours. Two boys, aged 11 and 13, and a girl of 17 died of their wounds on the way to hospital, and seven other pilgrims were injured.

Three of the pilgrims' Muslim escorts were also killed. Police said they died in the crossfire but, when rumours swept through the nearby mountain towns that they had been killed by Hindus to avenge the deaths of the children, the officers stepped in to prevent the two communities clashing.

In another attack in the Jammu district of Jammu & Kashmir state, Islamic radicals burst into the mountain village of Badar, spraying gunfire and hurling grenades and killing five Hindus.

Four members of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant group and a civilian were killed in a gun battle in Budgam district, west of Srinagar, police said. But locals said two of the five were innocent villagers.

The fighting follows a three-week lull in the violence during which a succession of senior western envoys – Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary; Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state; and Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary – have shuttled between Islamabad and Delhi, trying to find a formula to stop India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons and with more than a million troops actively deployed on the border, from going to war.

The efforts have yielded little substantive: India's conciliatory gestures, removing a ban on Pakistani use of its airspace, and pulling its warships back from its neighbour's Arabian Sea coast, were dictated by selfish considerations, Islamabad believes. Yet the electric tension that prompted Western missions in the two countries to urge their nationals to leave at full speed appear to have abated somewhat.

Artillery and mortar fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir, which has killed dozens of non-combatants on both sides in recent weeks, dwindled to "routine" levels yesterday, with no casualties reported. And for the first time in six months, the Indian Army allowed some of its frontline troops to go on leave.

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