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Surging Violence in Kasmir Leaves One Dead, 27 Wounded - 2004-04-14


In Indian Kashmir, surging violence has killed at least one person and wounded 27 others. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee expressed hope that rivals India and Pakistan can work toward a durable peace.

Officials say suspected Islamic militants lobbed a grenade at a crowd gathered for a campaign rally in Banihal village, about 200 km north of Kashmir's winter capital, Jammu.

Kashmir's health minister, Lal Singh, was to address the rally. At least one person was killed, and many more were wounded.

Appearing under tight security at a rally in Jammu just hours after the attack, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called for peace in Kashmir, the region that is a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Mr. Vajpayee said that he hopes dialogue between India and Pakistan will be successful, and that India wants to solve all disputes through negotiations.

The nuclear-armed rivals began peace talks in February, and their dispute over Kashmir is on the agenda.

India's parliamentary elections begin April 20, and election campaigning is in full swing across the country, including Kashmir. However, Kashmiri Muslim militant groups waging a separatist insurgency are threatening to disrupt the polls and target anyone participating in the elections.

The violence is the second time suspected militants have attacked an election rally in Kashmir in recent days. Last week, 11 people were killed, and dozens of people, including two government ministers, were injured when grenades and gunfire hit a crowd.

More violence was reported elsewhere in the region on. Officials say a landmine meant for an army convoy missed its target, and exploded in the northern town of Baramulla, injuring several civilians.

Army officials also say troops shot dead a rebel commander during a gunfight. They said he was a senior member of the outlawed Laskhar-e-Taiba - a frontline group for the separatist insurgency in Kashmir.

About 40,000 people have died during the 14-year struggle by Islamic militant groups to free Kashmir from India. Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority province.

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