Five die as Kashmiri separists step up campaign of bombings

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The Independent Online

In a string of terrorist attacks across Kashmir yesterday, five paramilitary officers were reported killed and several dozen people wounded.

In a string of terrorist attacks across Kashmir yesterday, five paramilitary officers were reported killed and several dozen people wounded.

There were bomb blasts in prominent spots in Srinagar, the Kashmir capital, and shellings in Karnaha and Uri, 200 kilometres and 100 kilometres respectively north of Srinagar.

In the run-up to Pakistan's and India's independence days - Pakistan's celebrated todayand India's tomorrow - high tension gripped the states as the civilian populations braced themselves for worse to come.

In the most destructive attack yesterday, a powerful home-made bomb detonated at 8.15am under a bus full of Border Security Force (BSF) paramilitary troops travelling on the main highway between Jammu, the state's winter capital, and Srinagar. The bus was thrown down the slope verging the road, killing four soldiers and injuring 32. Another bomb exploded under another BSF vehicle in the afternoon, killing one and injuring six.

The boldest attacks were in central Srinagar. They did little damage but they forced most people to stay indoors, and demonstrated the militants' ability and determination to strike at will, even in conditions of utmost security. Devices exploded near a popular pleasure garden and on Boulevard Road, which rings Dal Lake, where most of the city's tourist activity is concentrated. A grenade attack close to a famous shrine by Dal Lake on Saturday injured four women - two of them Hungarian tourists.

Most militant attacks in Kashmir since the Kargil War one year ago have focused on Indian military personnel and property. These latest attackssuggest the militants no longer seem to care if innocent bystanders get in the firing line as long as they make their point.

Kashmiris are bracing themselves for a hectic couple of days. Following last Tuesday's decision by Hizbul Mujahideen, the biggest militant group in the valley, to call off their three-month ceasefire after a bare fortnight, and the murderous car bomb blast in central Srinagar on Thursday, which killed 10 people and injured dozens more, tension in the state is at an historic high.

And these grim events come at a routinely tense time of the year. For its independence day, Pakistani flags will today be defiantly raised across the state, and other furtive gestures of celebration will be aired. Last year, a Pakistani flag was floated above Srinagar lashed to a hot air balloon.

But it is on tomorrow, India's independence day - when 55 years ago the first prime minister, Jawarhalal Nehru, Kashmiri by descent, announced India's "tryst with destiny" - that most attention is focused. An official parade to celebrate will be held in the morning. The militants can be expected to do their utmost to show their dissent.