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India condemns Kashmir massacre

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An Indian policeman stands by as residents leave the neighborhood where the attack took place.  


NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- India is condemning a weekend massacre in Indian Kashmir, calling it "terrorism in its most naked form."

In the deadliest attack in two months, suspected militants opened fire Saturday in Jammu City, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 30.

Mourners attended funerals for the victims on Sunday as an intense manhunt kicked off.

Police were searching for several gunmen after the deadliest attack in two months, which could once more stoke tensions between India and its nuclear neighbor Pakistan.

Pakistan has condemned the incident, sayint it was aimed at increasing tensions between India and Pakistan.

Indian officials say they will focus on Saturday's massacre when parliament convenes on Monday.

New Delhi's cabinet committee on security, which includes Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, met Sunday in New Delhi to discuss the situation.

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After the meeting, Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani headed to Jammu, and senior Kashmiri officials also traveled to the region.

"What's sad is yesterday's incident was terrorism in its most naked form," Advani said Sunday as he visited the slum where the carnage occurred.

Ashok Suri, police chief of India's disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, said the militants threw two hand grenades before firing automatic weapons. The attackers were reportedly dressed as Hindu holy men.

The attack took place in a mostly Hindu neighborhood of poor laborers. Many of the victims were women and children. Sources said the death toll was likely to go up because of the critical nature of the injuries.

Security forces surrounded the neighborhood soon after the attack, but the attackers escaped under the cover of darkness after a fierce encounter that lasted nearly four hours, The Press Trust of India reported.

Suri said a search was under way by police and Indian soldiers in the hills around Jammu City.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, although Indian authorities blamed Pakistani-backed militants fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir. Pakistan denies backing the militants, but says it gives diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri cause.

Suri told reporters Sunday he thought the attack was the work of two groups banned by Pakistan in January -- Jaish-e Muhammad and Lashkar-e Taiba, Islamic groups fighting for Kashmiri independence from India.

"All this is happening with the inspiration of Pakistan," Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha told the Aaj Tak television news channel.

In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said "the government condemns the killing of a number of civilians and injuries to many others in a terrorist attack on the outskirts of Jammu. The motivation behind the attack seems to be to enhance tension in the region."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned the killings.

"The people of this region deserve peace and development, not the suffering imposed upon them by terrorist thugs who are outside the pale of the civilized world," Powell said.

"The perpetrators of this heinous act are proving once again that they do not have the interest of the Kashmiri people at heart, but rather seek to undermine efforts to ease tensions in the region."

Kashmir flashpoint

The incident was the latest in a series of attacks spurred by a long-running dispute between nuclear powers India and Pakistan over the flashpoint of Kashmir.

Tensions peaked last spring when both nations posted more than 1 million troops along their shared border and the Kashmiri Line of Control, which divides the disputed region between them.

A December raid on India's parliament and a May attack on an Indian army camp near Jammu stoked the tensions, which were only eased after Islamabad bowed to intense U.S.-led diplomatic pressure and pledged to stop guerrillas crossing the porous border into Indian Kashmir.

Saturday's raid came on the anniversary of a 1931 incident in which police killed dozens of protesters demonstrating against a Hindu princely ruler.

Since 1989, a Muslim separatist revolt has raged in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority province in mostly Hindu India.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of providing funding and training to militants it accuses of carrying out a series of attacks against Indian targets, including a daring raid on the Indian parliament.

Pakistan denies the Indian charges saying that it gives only moral support to groups fighting what it calls a "freedom struggle" in the disputed Muslim majority region of Kashmir.

The Himalayan region has been the trigger for two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since the two were created by Britain's partition of the subcontinent at independence in 1947.

India holds 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan controls another third and China the rest.

India says at least 33,000 people have died since the rebellion began in 1989. Separatists put the toll closer to 80,000.

The attack comes ahead of a planned visit to the region in late July by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose efforts recently helped pull the two countries back from the brink of war.

Powell condemned the killings in a statement Sunday: "The people of this region deserve peace and development, not the suffering imposed upon them by terrorist thugs who are outside the pale of the civilized world.

"The perpetrators of this heinous act are proving once again that they do not have the interest of the Kashmiri people at heart, but rather seek to undermine efforts to ease tensions in the region, Powell said.

-- CNN correspondents Ram Ramgopal and Mukhtar Ahmed contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 






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