Major plays down security scare during India visit

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR yesterday played down threats by Sikh separatists to bomb today's Republic Day parade, which he will attend as guest of honour.

'I'm entirely content with the security arrangements,' Mr Major said after a round of talks and banquets yesterday with the Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. 'These threats come specifically after the extradition treaty we signed with India.' Under this recent treaty, India and Britain agreed to extradite terrorist suspects hiding in each other's countries and to help confiscate their assets.

On Sunday New Delhi police thwarted a plan by Sikh separatists to set off explosives in four government buildings lining the Raj Path boulevard, where the military parade is being held. Police said that Mr Major was not the intended prey of this Sikh separatist group, known as the Khalistan Commando Force.

Sikh militants are not the only secessionists in India of whom Mr Major's security officers must beware. There are also armed separatist movements in Kashmir and in the north-eastern states, culturally and geographically far removed from New Delhi.

Many of Britain's 1 million Asians are of Kashmiri origin, and Mr Major was careful not to be drawn into this territorial dispute between Pakistan and India. Asked if he offered any fresh proposals in his sessions with the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Major replied: 'At no stage have I had it in my mind to suggest Britain as an intermediary. This is a difficult problem that can only be solved by India and Pakistan. It's not up to us to be the artificial brokers of a solution.'

British officials have questioned the frequent human rights abuses by Indian security forces in Kashmir, and yesterday the state government announced it was releasing 224 Kashmiri militants under a Republic Day amnesty.

Mr Major was received outside the old Viceroy's residence with much pomp and polish by the President, S D Sharma, and the Prime Minister. Mr Major reminded the Indian officials that, having given up socialism for free- market capitalism, and having lost the Soviet Union as its main trading partner, New Delhi might do best by renewing commercial ties with its once colonial ruler. 'Today,' Mr Major told the Indian Prime Minister, 'relations are closer and deeper than at any time since 1947 (the year of India's independence).'

The goal of Mr Major's trip, much criticised for its poor timing by the press and politicians back home, was to push British businessmen through the door of the colossal Indian market, cracked open by recent economic reforms.

Mr Major was first in the queue. Next, in rapid succession, come the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, all with the same intentions.

Mr Major said he was delighted by the outcome. Robert Evans, chairman of British Gas and one of 17 British businessmen accompanying the Prime Minister to India, finalised a joint venture with an Indian company, worth pounds 100m, to pipe natural gas into Bombay.