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Patil sits on ceasefire fence

RS Pora, Nov. 7: This was as close as Shivraj Patil was ever going to get to Pakistan without his passport in hand ' one foot in no man's land across the Zero Line that separates the two countries and the other still on Indian territory.

But the home minister's visit to the border outpost of the BSF was not about building bridges. It was about cutting off the gateways used by infiltrators crossing into Jammu and Kashmir under the cover of darkness.

The floodlit fence beside the now unused Suchetgarh-Sialkot road on which Patil was standing today is part of a 186-km project taken up by the BSF after central labourers fled in 2001 following Pakistani shelling.

The BSF expects to complete the fencing in the Jammu region by March next year, a year ahead of schedule.

At the border outpost, Patil and security officials sought to clear the air on an earlier statement that suggested that the Centre is amenable to an 'internal ceasefire' in Jammu and Kashmir.

'We are trying to protect the life and property of people and when the situation so arises, we will consider such a step,' Patil had said in Jammu during the day, asked if the government was considering a ceasefire in the state in view of the truce on the border.

'If they (militants) respond to the persuasion and give up arms, there may be no need to intensify operations against them at all.'

Patil and home ministry officials later indicated that there was no room for a ceasefire.

Union minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal, who is accompanying the cabinet minister, said the concept of a ceasefire was ridiculous.

'This is not a war. The security forces are only guaranteeing the security of the people. It is our responsibility and we will go to any extent to do this, just as we have gone a step forward than usual to agree to hold unconditional talks,' Jaiswal said.

Patil, however, assured the state government that it would not find the Centre wanting in extending any assistance. The home minister would not spell out what the Centre had in mind ' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would make the announcements, he said.

However, a senior official disclosed that the Prime Minister's package would focus on improving power generation, providing drinking water in rural areas, helping industrial units in Jammu, as well as rejuvenating the state's handicrafts industry.

At an interaction with reporters at Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir auditorium ' barely 5 km from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference office ' Patil made it a point to emphasise that the federation was not the only one the government had in mind for holding talks.

The government will press ahead with its peace initiative and keep its doors open for anyone, 'howsoever small'. Patil spent most of the last two days meeting representatives of a cross-section of the society.

Patil also spoke of the central ruling coalition's commitment to fulfil a promise made by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to provide special reservation for Kashmiri students in party-ruled states.

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