The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia sees attempt to upset peace bid

New Delhi, March 24: Congress president Sonia Gandhi today said the killing of 24 Kashmiri Pundits in Nandimarg in south Kashmir was an attempt by anti-Indian elements to frustrate the People’s Democratic Party-Congress government’s efforts to restore normality in Jammu and Kashmir.

Expressing shock and anguish over the killing of innocents, including women and children, Sonia said: I condemn this inhuman depravity in the strongest possible terms.”

Sonia will visit Nandimarg village “at the earliest” to express her sorrow and sympathy for the bereaved families, party spokesman Jaipal Reddy said. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and his senior colleagues from the state have already visited the village on Sonia’s instructions.

Though Sonia did not directly point an accusing finger at Pakistan, Reddy virtually indicated Islamabad’s involvement in the killings. The attack is the result of the two-decades-old cross-border militancy the country has been fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

Reddy came down heavily on the BJP for “politicising” the killings even before details were known. The BJP’s demand for invoking Article 356 was proof of its attempts to politicise the tragedy, he said. The party, he said, should know that the Article does not apply to the state.

Responding to queries from reporters, the Congress spokesman said he did not share the view that the PDP-Congress coalition government’s disbanding of the Special Operations Group, meant for countering militancy, was responsible for the latest militant strike.

“It is too early to come to such a conclusion,” Reddy said. The Centre, he said, was less than enthusiastic about playing its role in curbing terrorism in the state. Ever since the coalition government assumed charge in the state last October, the Centre had been withdrawing paramilitary forces from the state.

While the state was asking for deployment of forces in the villages of Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre was withdrawing them, Reddy claimed. It was as much the Centre’s responsibility as that of the state government to fight terrorism in the state, he said, urging closer coordination between Delhi and Srinagar.

Meanwhile, the CPM and the CPI, too, condemned the massacre. In a statement, CPM demanded a “proper inquiry” into the role of the state police in view of reports that the police personnel posted in the village did not take any action to protect the families. The party alleged the police act was a deliberate attempt to spoil the chances of restoring peace in the state and allowing the minority community to live peacefully in the Valley.

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