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Suspected Separatists Kill at Least 4 in Indian Kashmir - 2002-09-06

In Indian Kashmir, suspected Islamic militants have shot dead a candidate in upcoming state elections and three other people. Police also briefly detained four senior separatist political leaders to prevent them from campaigning against the elections that begin later this month.

Police say a group of armed men opened fire on the car of Sheikh Abdul Rehman, while he was campaigning in his constituency in Kupwara district. Mr. Rehman's nephew and his driver were also killed.

Mr. Rehman was running as an independent candidate.

Police say Islamic guerrillas also killed a Communist party activist in Pulwama district in a separate incident.

At least five political activists have been killed since campaigning began for the elections, but Mr. Rehman is the first candidate to be targeted by gunmen.

Muslim rebel groups fighting for Indian Kashmir independence from New Delhi's rule have called for a boycott of the elections and threatened to kill anyone who participates in the vote.

The elections to choose a new state assembly in Kashmir begin September 16. New Delhi hopes to boost the legitimacy of its rule through the polls, but has expressed fears that Islamic militant groups will step up violence in the run-up to the election.

Meanwhile, police put four senior Kashmiri separatist leaders under house arrest early Friday but ended their detention later in the day.

Police say the day-long arrests were made to prevent the leaders from addressing anti-election rallies in the Kashmiri capital Srinagar. Kashmiri leaders usually address mass prayers at different mosques on Friday.

Those detained included Abdul Ghani Bhat, the chairman of Indian Kashmir's main political separatist alliance, the Huriyat Conference.

The Huriyat Conference condemned the detentions, saying they were aimed at silencing their voice ahead of the elections.

Most separatist leaders plan to boycott the polls, because they say the Indian government has not linked the elections to finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Indian officials have called on all groups to participate in the polls, and said they will only hold talks with those who win the elections.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the muslim separatist insurgency erupted in 1989 in Indian Kashmir.