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Patil visits J&K to review security

Home Minister's visit follows a wave of violence by terrorists that left 35 dead.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 15:14 IST

Home Minister Shivraj Patil was discussing ways to increase security in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday after a wave of violence by Islamic terrorists left 35 Hindus dead.

Patil arrived in Jammu to meet with police and local officials in search of ways to heighten security for Hindus. He later visited the Udhampur district, where 13 shepherds were abducted and killed by suspected Islamic rebels over the weekend.

In the village of Thava, terrorists disguised as soldiers coaxed wary residents from their homes and then gunned down 22 — the single bloodiest attack by Islamic rebels in Kashmir since a 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan, a senior police officer, Rajesh Singh, said on Monday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested the killings would not hamper efforts to find peace in the Himalayan region, divided between India and Pakistan. "People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly," he said.

India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of backing the terrorists, even as the two rivals have talked peace. Singh, however, stopped short of blaming Islamabad for the attack.

A spokeswoman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, Tasnim Aslam, said the killings were "an act of terrorism and we condemn it."

Witnesses said more than a half-dozen assailants, some in Army uniforms, slipped into the village of Thava after dark Sunday and, using local guides, told people they had come to meet residents.

"When we assembled outside the home of the village head ... they showered bullets on us," said Gyan Chand, one of five people wounded in the attack. He spoke from a hospital in the town of Doda.

Following the attack, survivors rushed to alert a nearby Army camp, but the assailants fled before security forces arrived, said Sheesh Pal Vaid, a police inspector-general.

A leader of Kashmir's political separatist movement, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called the attack "a deplorable and heinous act." His group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is to take part in a previously planned meeting on Wednesday between Kashmiri political separatists and Singh.

"I hope we are able to find a way out of this mindless death and destruction," Farooq said.