Indian troops stage helicopter raids to catch massacre gangs

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The Independent Online

Indian troops stepped up patrols in Kashmir-Pakistan border areas yesterday to flush out militants responsible for this week's rash of massacres.

Indian troops stepped up patrols in Kashmir-Pakistan border areas yesterday to flush out militants responsible for this week's rash of massacres.

The army launched a second day of helicopter operations in mountain and jungle areas of the Jammu and Kashmir state as the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, told parliament in Delhi he would not give up efforts to restore peace and end a decade-old rebellion.

Government officials held talks with the frontline militant group Hizbul Mujahidin and both agreed to set up a bipartisan committee to discuss a ceasefire process.

But Kashmir's main separatist alliance brushed aside the talks and said only a three-way dialogue involving it, Pakistan and India could untangle the 53-year-old Kashmir dispute.

"I cannot say about Hizb talks, but a collective political effort is needed which ipso facto includes India, Pakistan and the APHC," said Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.

His organisation includes 22 separatist, religious and political groups.

India has said it is ready to talk to all militant groups, but has frowned on involving arch-rival Pakistan, which it blames for stoking the rebellion. Yesterday Islamabad rejected Mr Vajpayee's accusation that this week's Kashmir bloodbath was part of a "proxy war" by Pakistan over the disputed region.

Mr Vajpayee blamed one militant group for Tuesday night's attacks that left 90 pilgrims and labourers dead, mostly Hindus. "Arms and munitions recovered clearly establish their links with Pakistan-based Laskhar-e-Taiba." The group denies any role in the massacre.

Lashkar-e-Taiba and more than a dozen other Pakistan-based outfits fighting Indian rule in Kashmir regard the three-month ceasefire declared by Hizbul mujahidin last week as a sell-out of their struggle.

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