Standoff at Kashmir mosque ends


A STANDOFF at Kashmir's holiest mosque ended in Srinagar yesterday with Muslim separatist militants in the shrine handing over their weapons to the authorities, police sources said.

Around 20 heavily armed Muslim guerrillas surrendered their weapons to the Kashmir police, chief, Mr M.N. Sabharwal, and government officials following a three day siege of the lslamic shrine by the security forces.

The militants emerged from, [5flg5 Hazratbal mosque in groups of three after an agreement was reached under which they would give up their arms but could not be taken into custody, the police sources said. "We have evacuated the shrine," said a Kashmir government spokesman, Mr Kulbushan Jindiyal. "You may call it a surrender or an evacuation."

Around 2,000 policemen deparamilitary troopers had ringed the mosque since a gun battle on Sunday between police and members of a faction of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

At least nine JKLF militants and two policemen were killed in the shootout at Hazratbal, which houses a whisker which Kashmiri Muslims believe comes from the beard of the Prophet Mohammed. Among the dead was the group's military commander, Basharat Raza, whose body was removed from the shrine along with those of seven others.

The police sources said the trustees of the shrine entered the mosque after the surrender of the JKLF militants to confirm that the holy relic had not been harmed.

Indian troops imposed a curfew on the neighbourhoods around the shrine on Monday and brought in a mediator, the father of a Muslim militant killed by Indian troops in 1992, to try to reach a peaceful settlement.

Security forces used batons and tear gas to break up anti Indian demonstrations yesterday in Srinagar. Like the rest of the Kashmir Valley, the town was paralysed by a general strike called by the JKLF.

. Seven people were killed when unidentified men hurled bombs at a socialist election rally in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the Press Trust of India (PTI) said yesterday. Om Prakash Paswan, a former legislator, and six of his supporters were killed in the attack in the town of Gorakhpur, near the border with Nepal, on Monday evening, the news agency said. More than 100 others were injured.