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Indian Kashmir Minister Takes Oath After an Attack on His Home - 2002-11-02

A new chief minister has been sworn into office in Indian Kashmir amid a wave of violence by suspected Islamic militants. In separate attacks, a ruling party political leader was killed, and the chief minister's home was attacked, hours before he took office. Meanwhile Indian defense officials say soldiers killed 12 suspected Islamic guerrillas trying to enter Kashmir. But the new government is promising a new start for the insurgency-wracked region.

Kashmir's new chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, taking the oath of office in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state. Mr. Sayeed heads a coalition government, which includes his People's Democratic Party and India's main opposition Congress party.

Just hours before the swearing-in ceremony, suspected Islamic militants hurled grenades at Mr. Sayeed's home. He was unhurt, but the attack injured a security guard.

Later in the day, police say, militants shot dead a local leader of the Congress party Mohammad Sikander Khan and his two guards in a busy area of Srinagar.

The violence highlighted the problems that the new government will face as it tries to implement pledges of returning peace to the troubled region, where an Islamic separatist revolt has raged since 1989.

Mr. Sayeed favors a dialogue with separatist militants, and has promised to facilitate talks between the federal government and rebellious groups, in an effort to end the insurgency.

Mr. Sayeed has also outlined bold new initiatives to give what he terms a "healing" touch to the Muslim-majority region. He says he will free political prisoners against whom there are no cases, and militants who are not facing serious charges.

He has vowed to defend human rights, and disband an anti-insurgency unit accused of excesses and human rights abuses.

Most Kashmiris are optimistic about the change of guard in the state administration, and say they welcome whatever measures are taken to return peace to the region. A new party is heading the government, after years of rule by the National Conference party, which was widely accused of misgovernance and corruption.

But political analysts warn that Mr. Sayeed does not face an easy task in delivering on the promises he has made. He will need full support from his coalition partners, because his party only has 16 members in the 87-member state legislature. He will also need the cooperation of the Indian federal government, which controls the tens-of-thousands of military and paramilitary troops deployed in the region to tackle the militancy.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says there are fears of increased violence, if hardline Islamic separatist groups resist Mr. Sayeed's peace overtures to militants.

"There is an expectation that there will be a healing touch, and there will be an attempt at a political approach to the problems in the state," Mr. Rangarajan said. "Now, Mr.Sayeed has to address that feeling without in any way directly giving in to the militants. That is going to be his challenge. So, the mood is postive, but Mr. Sayeed will have to be alert to the dangers of renewed militancy."

India's federal government hopes the recent elections and the new state administration in Kashmir will help to end the alienation of ordinary people in the region. Pakistan and Islamic militant groups waging the insurgency have dismissed the elections as a sham.