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Unidentified Gunmen Kill 24 Hindus in Indian Kashmir - 2003-03-24

In Indian Kashmir, unidentified gunmen have killed 24 Hindus, including 11 women and two children. The attacks come hours after a Muslim separatist leader was murdered. It is the worst outbreak of violence in Kashmir since a new regional government took power six months ago.

Indian Police say a large group of armed men mounted the overnight attack on Nadi Marg village, about 50 kilometers south of Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar.

Kashmir's police chief, AK Suri, says the gunmen, dressed in army uniforms, disarmed about four policemen guarding the village, then entered several homes firing randomly on residents including women and children.

The attack comes hours after Muslim separatist leader Abdul Majid Dar was shot dead Sunday while getting out of his car in Sopore, 50 kilometers north of Srinagar.

Two separatist groups have claimed responsibility for the murder. Mr. Dar had been expelled six months ago as head of the front-line Kashmir rebel group, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which wants to merge Indian Kashmir with Pakistan. He was suspected of holding secret talks with the Indian government.

Kashmir's Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed says the attacks are aimed at derailing the peace process in the region. The violence comes as the Kashmiri government is also trying resettle Hindus in India's only Muslim-majority region. They fled Kashmir after a separatist Muslim revolt erupted in 1989 and has since left more than 37,000 people dead.

The chief of Kashmir's Congress Party in the coalition government, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said Hindus should be given more security in the region.

Mr. Azad said Muslim militants did not favor the government's efforts to relocate Hindus in Kashmir. He called the latest attack a setback to those efforts.

Kashmir's new regional government came to power six months ago, promising to reduce violence and open talks with all groups, including Muslim militants. But violence has escalated in recent weeks, with suspected Muslim militants mounting at least three other attacks in the region earlier in the month.

Nearly a dozen Muslim guerrilla groups are fighting for either Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.