India announces halt to offensives against Kashmir militants

SRINAGAR, India - The Indian army has suspended all operations against Islamic militants in Kashmir for the first time in 11 years in response to a cease-fire by one of the main guerrilla groups, the top general in the region said Friday.

But other guerrilla organizations rejected the move and vowed to keep fighting.

Indian Maj. Gen. Basant Singh said his troops had not carried out any action against Islamic separatists since Tuesday.

''There will be no deliberate attempt against the militants on our part,'' Singh said. ''We have issued instructions to all our field commanders to stop these offensive operations.''

Several groups, based in Kashmir and Pakistan, have been waging an 11-year guerrilla war in Jammu-Kashmir - the only Muslim majority state in India - demanding independence or union with Islamic Pakistan.

The decision was made in response to a three-month cease-fire declared last week by one of the groups, the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, Singh said.

Singh said the army had stopped all offensives, explaining that ''it is very difficult to identify which militant is of Hezb-ul Mujahedeen or other outfits.''

A spokesman for the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, Omar Muslim, welcomed India's announcement, but said his group also wants a promise from India to stop attacks against civilians.

Other rebel groups rejected India's offer, promising to fight on until Indian-ruled Kashmir is independent or aligned with Pakistan.

''We will not only continue to carry out our attacks but we will increase them,'' said Mohammed Munir, a leader of Harakat-ul Mujahedeen, contacted in the Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad.

Munir, who said he recently returned to Pakistan from Indian Kashmir, said his group was to carry out two separate attacks against Indian troops on Friday. He refused to specify the types of attacks and there was no confirmation that they took place. ''Our jehad will continue until we get our liberation,'' he said.

Earlier Friday, suspected militants hurled grenades at a police patrol in Garida Bazaar in downtown Srinagar, killing one reserve policeman and injuring two.

Senior Indian military officers estimate 3,500 militants were in Kashmir as of March and an additional 5,000 were trained and ready to cross the border from camps in Pakistan. They had anticipated an increase in fighting this summer.

But instead, there have been a series of dramatic developments. The government released several separatist leaders and said it was willing to open talks with them on ending the violence that has killed 16,000 people since 1989.

Then last week, the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, which had threatened in May to send suicide bombers against military camps in Kashmir, suddenly announced the cease-fire.

Singh said he believed the truce call meant militants were bowing to the desires of the Kashmiri people for peace. ''The militants cannot survive without the support of the locals and soon as the locals desire peace, the militants have to accept reality,'' Singh said.

Other militant groups condemned the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen's cease-fire declaration. The All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of separatist organizations in Kashmir, said this week the cease-fire was ''hasty.'' Hurriyat and other groups have insisted that there should be no independent talks without Pakistan.

The former princely state of Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India and has been the cause of two wars since the subcontinent gained its independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries lay claim to the entire region.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the militant groups who cross the border or the Line of Control that divides Kashmir to set off bombs and attack security forces.

Pakistan says it supports the cause of the militants but denies it gives them cash, arms or training, as India alleges. Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has offered repeatedly to open talks with India on the Kashmir dispute.


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