Sikh rebels blamed for massacre

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NEW DELHI (AFP) - Suspected Sikh militants yesterday killed 29 people, including women and children, whom they had abducted on Friday in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the Press Trust of India reported.

None of the half-a-dozen Sikh separatist organisations campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland in adjacent Punjab has claimed responsibility for the massacre in Pilibhit, 130 miles east of New Delhi. The Hindu- revivalist party governing Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party), launched a search to flush out the killers from the dense forests of Pilibhit.

The massacre came a few hours after police killed Navroop Singh, the new leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) militant group, and four others in a 22- hour gunbattle in Punjab's Tarn Taran county.

The gunbattle flared on Sunday in a farmhouse after the police had surrounded the building, trapping Navroop and his associates, reports said. Three assault rifles, pistols and ammunition were found at the site. Navroop had been named the new chief of the KLF after its founder-leader, Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala, died in a similar gunbattle last Thursday. Police blamed Budhsinghwala for the murder of 500 people in Punjab, New Delhi, and the northern provinces of Haryana and Rajasthan.

In the Punjab capital of Chandigarh, police said a two-day general strike sponsored by all six Sikh Akali Dal party factions to protest against the killing of Budhsinghwala had paralysed life in six districts.