At least 30 killed in Kashmir attack

Islamic militants blamed for deadly assault on bus and Indian army camp

May 15, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW DELHI, India - Three suspected Islamic militants killed at least 30 people, including women and children, in an attack yesterday on a bus and an army camp in Kashmir, the Indian army said.

The attack coincided with a visit to New Delhi by a U.S. official on a mission to defuse the tensions that have lingered between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. And it came a day after India's defense minister, George Fernandes, said in an interview that India had no plans to begin a military attack over the next few months against Pakistan, even if severely provoked.

He is the first and only senior Indian official to offer such assurances.

The U.S. official, the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Christina Rocca, said yesterday that the United States condemns the "terrorist" attack.

"It's just this type of barbarism that the war on terrorism is determined to stop," she said.

Three men wearing army uniforms opened fire on a bus near the Ratnachak army camp, killing several passengers, the Reuters news agency quoted the Indian army as saying. The men then ran into the camp to an area of family housing, workshops and canteens.

Many of the victims were wives and children of soldiers stationed at the base about 10 miles south of Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

The men, suspected members of Islamic groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, were killed four hours after the start of the attack, in which at least 33 people died, an army spokesman in New Delhi said. Dozens of people were wounded.

Islamic militants, many of them based in Pakistan, have been fighting since 1989 to wrest the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir from New Delhi.

Pakistan issued a statement condemning the attack.

"Acts of violence resulting in civilian casualties in the Indian-occupied Kashmir and India continue to coincide with high-level visits to the region," the Foreign Ministry statement said. "Such incidents warrant an impartial and comprehensive inquiry to unmask the motives of their perpetrators."

In contrast to the statement by Fernandes on Monday, other Indian officials have told the United States privately that India is fast approaching the time when it must decide whether to take military action against Pakistan, U.S. officials say.

Western diplomats and U.S. officials say it is a perilous moment on the subcontinent. A senior Western diplomat here put the odds of a military conflict at even or better.

"We're approaching the crunch time in testing Pakistani intentions," he said.

Rocca, who was scheduled to meet yesterday with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and other Indian officials, will travel to Pakistan this week on a mission to reduce tensions in South Asia.

The U.S. government fears that a military conflict would risk a nuclear conflagration and gravely complicate its efforts to capture members of al-Qaida in Pakistan.

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