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Pakistan Enforces Ban on Militant Islamic Groups

Authorities in Pakistan have detained hundreds of activists of newly banned militant Islamic organizations. President General Pervez Musharraf announced the ban of five groups Saturday as he denounced religious violence and extremism in a major speech to the country.

Reports say Pakistani police have begun enforcing the ban and have sealed offices of the militant groups Sipah-e-Sahab, Tehrik-e-Jafria and Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Mohammedi, as well as two pro-Kashmir groups, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Police have also rounded up hundreds of the organization's activists.

Officials are quoted as saying other militant groups, whose members allegedly possess illegal weapons and are involved in criminal activities, are also being targeted. Many Islamic leaders and activists have reportedly gone into hiding to avoid the crackdown.

Some of the groups outlawed by the Pakistani government are active in the Indian part of Kashmir. In his national speech Saturday, General Mushrraf vowed that no organization would be allowed to indulge in terrorism "behind the garb of the Kashmir cause."

The arrests in Pakistan come amid renewed tensions with neighboring India, which accuses Pakistan of sponsoring a deadly attack on the Indian parliament last month. The rival nations have deployed forces along their common border, raising fears of a fourth war between them.

General Musharraf says internal security concerns have prompted the crackdown on Islamic militants. But many in Pakistan say the move is likely to ease tensions with India, which has long accused Islamabad of training militants to fuel an armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies its involvement and maintains it only offers moral and diplomatic support to what it calls the "freedom struggle in Kashmir." The disputed region has caused two wars between India and Pakistan.