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Suspected Islamic Militants Kill Legislator in Kashmir - 2002-12-20

In Indian Kashmir, suspected Islamic militants have killed a newly elected state legislator. Violence has continued unabated in the insurgency-wracked region since a new state government took power last month.

Police say a gunman shot Abdul Aziz Mir at close range, as he came out of a mosque after Friday prayers. Mr. Mir is a legislator of the ruling People's Democratic Party.

The shooting took place in Mr. Mir's village near the town of Pampore, about 25 kilometers south of the state's summer capital, Srinagar.

Mr. Mir is the first ruling party legislator killed by militants since state elections three months ago. Separatist groups had threatened at the time to kill anyone participating in the elections.

A coalition government led by the People's Democratic Party took power in early November, promising to try and restore peace in the insurgency-wracked region, and open a dialogue with separatist militants.

But violence blamed on Islamic separatist groups has continued to grip the region.

In a separate incident, suspected Muslim militants are reported to have killed three young women in Kashmir's Rajouri district late Thursday. Officials say two of them were shot dead in their homes, and a third was dragged out and beheaded. Police say the killings came days after posters appeared in the town ordering all women to wear veils - and could be linked to the order to adhere to a strict Islamic dress code.

Meanwhile, a strike in the Kashmir valley entered a second day. The strikers are protesting the death sentences handed down to three Indian Muslims for complicity in last year's attack on the Indian parliament. The three say they are innocent. Their lawyers say they plan to appeal the sentences.

Nearly a dozen Islamic militant groups have been waging a separatist insurgency in Kashmir since 1989. More than 35,000 people have died in violence linked to the revolt. India accuses Pakistan of supporting and sponsoring the militants. Pakistan denies the charge.