Militants lure 10 to their deaths in Kashmir ambush

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The Independent Online

Less than 48 hours after the end of the first ceasefire called by a militant group in Kashmir, the valley saw more bloodshed yesterday when a car bomb exploded in central Srinagar, killing 10 and injuring 29.

Less than 48 hours after the end of the first ceasefire called by a militant group in Kashmir, the valley saw more bloodshed yesterday when a car bomb exploded in central Srinagar, killing 10 and injuring 29.

Both Hizbul Mujahideen, which called off its ceasefire on Tuesday and a rival militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiyyba, claimed responsibility for the blast.

The explosion, which happened soon after midday outside the Bank of India on Residency Road, was a well-crafted trap. First a grenade was thrown, exploding among a crowd of soldiers queuing outside the bank to collect their wages. Police and journalists rushed to the scene then about 10 minutes later a time-bomb exploded in a white Ambassador car on the same spot. One of the dead and several of the injured were Indian journalists.

It was the most destructive terrorist attack in Srinagar since the spring and seemed designed to extinguish hopes that Hizbul Mujahideen's cancellation of the ceasefire was only a blip in Kashmir's ongoing peace process.

Only minutes before the blast, Jammu & Kashmir's Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, in an interview with The Independent, was encouraging the belief that more peace moves could be expected soon. "Just wait a few days," Dr Abdullah said.

The Kashmiri press, too, was yesterday doing its best to look on the brightest of bright sides, interpreting the refusal of separatist leaders to comment on the end of the ceasefire, following a four-hour conference on Wednesday, as a promising and positive development. Ordinary Kashmiris greeted the return to violence-as-usual with expressions of despair and misery.

The brief, 15-day ceasefire - even though the peace it brought was only patchy - reminded them of the good old days 11 and more years ago. "I could go to a movie, come back at 1.30 in the morning without any worries," said a driver based in central Srinagar. "My wife and daughters could go out and come back late in the evening and the only thing that they had to worry about was stray dogs."

Today, few venture out after dark, except in case of dire need, lest they be stopped and harassed by paramilitary patrols or worse. "If I'm a little late getting home these days, my family is distracted with worry," the driver went on.

The Chief Minister, Dr Abdullah, who has a British wife and who has worked in England as a doctor, said: "It is unfortunate that the ceasefire has been called off. It saddens us all. We hope it is a temporary phase. You must have seen yourself that people are tired of guns, they want peace. It is time for peace."

He blamed the calling off of the ceasefire on the conditions which Hizbul Mujahideen imposed after it began, demanding Pakistan's involvement in any peace negotiations. "As far as I remember," Dr Abdullah said, "the idea was Kashmir talking to India. That should be the first stage. There has to be sincerity on all sides."

Dr Abdullah also reacted sharply to the proposals floated by a United States-based think-tank, the Kashmir Study Group, urging the three-way division of Jammu & Kashmir following the lines of the Buddhist-Muslim-Hindu religious divide. The proposal has recently found support among the India's Hindu right,

Wholeheartedly rejecting the idea, Dr Abdullah said it was a reprise of the "Two Nation Theory" which brought about the partition of India in 1947. He said: "I have seen what happened in Bosnia, I have seen 1947 as a young kid. I don't want the blood of innocent Muslims on my hands."

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