Explosion kills dozens in Kashmir

Indian soldiers targeted by separatist militants

May 24, 2004|By Shankhadeep Choudhury and Paul Watson | Shankhadeep Choudhury and Paul Watson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI, India - A day after India swore in its new prime minister, separatist Kashmiri militants set off a remote-controlled bomb that killed 33 people in a bus carrying Indian troops and their families to a popular vacation spot.

The bomb exploded with such force that it ripped apart the bus and engulfed it in flames, state police inspector-general Rajendra Kumar said.

"As a result, most of the victims were trapped inside and charred to death," he added.

Indian intelligence and police sources said more than 200 pounds of military-grade plastic explosives were hidden in a narrow culvert under the main highway through the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The blast, which occurred hours before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held his first Cabinet meeting, was the most deadly militant assault in two years, said Krishnaswamy Srinivasan, deputy inspector-general of the Border Security Force.

The attack was seen as an early test for Singh, who was sworn in as India's prime minister Saturday after a week of political turmoil that followed the victory of his Congress Party-led alliance. Singh is expected to name his Cabinet ministers today.

"I have learned with the deepest sorrow ... about the latest cowardly act of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir," Singh said in a statement. "While we continue to seek peaceful resolutions to all outstanding problems, there can be no compromise on our solemn resolve to deal with the menace of terrorism with firm determination."

The dead included 14 BSF paramilitary soldiers, six women, three children, and some male relatives of the soldiers. The bus was among a heavily guarded military convoy of 10 vehicles heading to Srinagar, summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state. The bus was in Lower Munda, 60 miles away when the bomb exploded under it.

BSF sources, who spoke on condition they not be named, said as many as 35 people may have been on the bus.

The confirmed death toll is the highest in a single attack since May 2002, when militants killed at least 34 people, including several women and children. The gunmen stormed a bus and a nearby army camp.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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