Delhi finds lost Hizbul link
Pervez punch
CPM closes consul
Red Cross funds flood relief
Emissary returns with bandit�s deadline
Rupee crashes
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 11: 
Grasping at a straw, security agencies have re-established contact with Hizbul Mujahideen�s India chief Abdul Majid Dar but the spectre of violence hung over Kashmir with the outfit�s Pakistan-based commander threatening to launch its heaviest bombing in 10 years.

�In a day or two, we will launch the biggest bombardment not seen in the last 10 years,� Reuters quoted Hizb supreme commander Syed Salahuddin as saying in Pakistan�s Urdu daily Jung.

Despite the unequivocal threat and the Hizb�s claim that it was behind the lethal car bomb blast in Srinagar, the government continues to believe that a section of its Kashmir-based commanders are sincere about the talks.

�Security agencies are in touch with Dar and some of his lieutenants in certain areas of the Valley. They continue to remain firm in holding a dialogue and it is based on this conviction in the other side that the government is hopeful of a resumption of talks,� an official said.

The Centre has been informed that Dar, who went underground after the ceasefire call-off, is �not in danger�, though the rivalry between various tanzeems (terrorist groups) in Jammu and Kashmir has intensified.

An official said that talks at a �subdued level� (read without any publicity) could restart after August 15, provided the situation on the ground improves.

But the immediate prospects of any improvement appeared dim. Officials conceded that they feared more blasts in Srinagar in the run-up to Independence Day. Their apprehension was reinforced by the Hizb leadership in Islamabad. �India will pay a heavy price for rejecting the ceasefire,� Salahuddin said.

Salim Hashmi, a spokesman for the outfit, added that the Hizb �will make a series of attacks against military installations in Kashmir and in other parts of India�. US media reports said around 1.75 million Pakistani boys are being trained in madarsas to be sent to Kashmir to join the jehad.

The government will enforce air space restrictions over New Delhi on August 15 following intelligence reports that Pakistan�s Inter-Services Intelligence might use unmanned aerial vehicles to trigger disturbances.

�The air force has been asked to shoot down any plane flying without permission,� Delhi�s police chief Ajai Raj Sharma said. He added that air force helicopters would also maintain vigil in congested areas around Red Fort from whose ramparts the Prime Minister will address the nation.

Despite the Hizb�s claims of having sparked the mayhem in Srinagar yesterday, reports from the state indicate that the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba was responsible for the explosion in which 13 people died. Delhi believes the Hizb was forced to claim responsibility because its Islamabad-based top brass could have done little else.

By continuing to work on Dar, the government is trying to send out the signal that the talks can still be salvaged provided the cards are played cautiously.

Already, the finger of accusation for the failed experiment is pointing towards the intelligence assessment wings in the Prime Minister�s Office and the home ministry.

Officials are now wondering whether the government made a tactical error in failing to �bring over� Salahuddin safely across the Line of Control before agreeing to Dar�s ceasefire offer.

They admit that there were �hitches� and �glitches� in the attempt to make way for Salahuddin�s entry into Indian territory.

It is another indication that the Centre failed to assess accurately the possible outcome of Salahuddin remaining in Pakistan. �The decision-makers should have been patient enough. It would have taken time but the wait would have been worth it. At least the Hizb leadership would not have been under any pressure. It would have opened up possibilities of a successful and trouble-free dialogue for the future,� an official said.


Washington, Aug. 11: 
Efforts by the Clinton administration to restrain Pakistan and reduce violence in Kashmir appear to have reached a dead end. With Pakistan�s chief executive, Pervez Musharraf, washing his hands of any responsibility in the latest events in Kashmir in a letter to President Bill Clinton, efforts by the White House to repeat the magic of July 1999 in bringing peace in Kargil have turned out to be a non-starter. Musharraf�s letter was in reply to a communication from Clinton in which he pleaded for restraint and a resumption of the peace process.    

Aug. 11: 
The CPM today �closed the chapter� on the consulate controversy, claiming the Prime Minister had conveyed an assurance from the US embassy that incidents like the contentious Nanoor visit would not be repeated.

�We were informed by the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary that the Americans have promised the Centre that such visits would not happen. We are satisfied with the Prime Minister�s reply and the chapter is treated as closed,� party emissary Biplab Dasgupta told reporters in Delhi after meeting Atal Behari Vajpayee along with a delegation of MPs.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who had breathed fire when the US consul-general in Calcutta, Christopher Sandrolini, called on him on Wednesday, thanked Vajpayee for �promptly taking up the matter with the US embassy�.

State CPM chief Anil Biswas, who had fired the first salvo and sought the removal of the consul-general and his wife, also piped down, saying tonight that the party had withdrawn its proposal for an agitation on the issue.

However, South Block officials added a pinch of salt to the CPM claim, hinting that the party was reading too much into Vajpayee�s �tongue-in-cheek� comment that he agreed with the delegation that the country is full of �CIA moles�.

The officials said Vajpayee did what he does best. The Prime Minister was all ears and sympathetic to the delegation�s allegations and grievances, but he stopped short of committing whether the consul-general�s action of sending analysts to Nanoor could be construed a violation of diplomatic norms.

Eager to end the controversy before his American visit next month, Vajpayee assured the Left leaders that the Nanoor episode would not be repeated. Dasgupta said �this categoric assurance was given by US ambassador Richard Celeste to the Prime Minister� and described it a �virtual apology�� by the Americans.

However, officials at the Prime Minister�s Office contested CPM claims that Vajpayee had �immediately begun the process of talks� with the American embassy.

The officials said the controversy was one among several issues raised with Celeste when he had called on Vajpayee a few days again for a �routine meeting�. Dasgupta said the foreign secretary has also received a report from the US embassy on the incident.

Dasgupta argued that though international conventions allowed diplomats access to most parts of the country, they could not be allowed to visit at will �politically sensitive� areas. �We told the Prime Minister it was not just a question of the BJP or the Left� we are all Indians and cannot allow the US to interfere in our country,� said Das Gupta.

But South Block officials raised doubts whether any categoric assurance on this was given by the Prime Minister. The CPM used today�s meeting to point a finger at the Trinamul Congress, too.

�There is a small, regional party which is flush with funds. We would like to know where they are drawing their funds from,� the delegation told the Prime Minister. But Vajpayee laughed away the allegation and told them the matter should be settled �politically�.    

Guwahati, Aug. 11: 
The International Committee of the Red Cross today sanctioned Rs 90 lakh for flood relief operations in Assam, West Bengal and Bihar.

It also made a worldwide appeal for another $3.5 million from its international donors.

Renuka Devi Borkotoky, chief of the humanitarian organisation�s Assam chapter, told The Telegraph that a delegation assessed the extent of damage caused by floods in the state and sent a report to its headquarters in Geneva.

She said a disaster-assessment team from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would be arriving here this weekend for a survey of the �hardest-hit areas� of the state.

�We may begin to see serious malnutrition and waterborne diseases if aid does not reach the flood-affected areas soon,� an official source quoted Geoffrey Dennis, head of the Red Cross� South Asia bureau, as saying.

The funds sanctioned by the Red Cross today will be used to distribute food, water-purification tablets and blankets in the flood-affected areas.

�Access to many of the worst-affected villages is impossible as roads and bridges have been damaged. Some areas are still under water,� the Red Cross said.

The current wave of floods in Assam has claimed 31 lives. Another 34 people have succumbed to encephalitis.

Though the water level has begun receding, many areas are still partially under water. Road communication has also been disrupted.

Over 35 lakh people in 3,684 villages spread across 17 districts have been affected by the floods. The government has released Rs 31 crore for flood relief and opened 578 relief camps.

Chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today appealed to the Centre to consider floods in Assam as a �national problem�.

Claiming to be in constant touch with the Centre, he called for a joint effort by the northeastern states to prevent recurrence of floods every year.

The chief minister said heavy rain in Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan had been causing floods in Assam over the past few years.

�Deforestation has caused an ecological imbalance in the region,� he added.

The Red Cross, too, attributed climatic changes in the Northeast to environmental degradation. It said Majuli�s plight was particularly pathetic.

�The world�s largest river island has been completely inundated. All you can see is the top of some trees,� the Red Cross said.    

Chennai, Aug. 11: 
Nakkeeran editor R.R. Gopal, the government emissary who returned today after meeting Veerappan, said the forest bandit had set an eight-day deadline for the implementation of his demands.

Gopal said he had conveyed Veerappan�s message to the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and it was up to them to decide what to do next.

The state government tonight said it will release five Tamil extremists as demanded by Veerappan. Chief minister M. Karunanidhi said: �We have asked these five to be released, but the actual release will be simultaneous with the end to the crisis.�

The decision was taken after a meeting between the chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. S.M. Krishna had arrived here from Bangalore this afternoon after Gopal returned from his nine-day trek.

With Veerappan setting a fresh deadline, it appears the bandit is not satisfied with the response of the governments to his demands. He had made 10 demands for the release of Kannada icon Raj Kumar, who he has been holding hostage for almost a fortnight.

Gopal said he was confident no harm would come to Raj Kumar and that he would be released sooner rather than later. He added that the actor was in good spirits and there was no cause for concern. Raj Kumar allegedly told Gopal that on the night he was kidnapped, he had first thought that income-tax officials had come to raid his farmhouse but later recognised Veerappan.

Veerappan and his men were frequently shifting base and the hideout where he met Raj Kumar was the fourth that the hostages had been moved to, Gopal said. �The 72-year-old actor has walked about 25 to 30 km in the forests. Veerappan told me they will be changing locations once again after I leave,� he said. The government�s emissary said he had requested Veerappan to send back all the four hostages with him, but was told to �first take back this reply and give it to them (the government)�.

Veerappan was not demanding amnesty for himself or his gang and had not asked for a ransom either, the Nakkeeran editor said. He claimed that Veerappan was a changed man and had become a convert to the Tamil extremist cause.

Denying rumours that the bandit was being held a prisoner by some militant group, Gopal said: �He�s still the master of the situation and he is the one who is calling the shots.� Showing video-clippings of Raj Kumar, Veerappan and himself sitting on a carpet in a clearing in the forest, the emissary said he was willing to go back with the governments� response.

Gopal denied reports of a rift with the brigand and said it took a long time to establish contact with Veerappan only because of the incessant rain. He had trekked about 30 km into the forests to reach the hideout and 22 km on his way back.    

The rupee today plunged to 46.07/08 against the dollar today, but later rallied sharply to close at 45.79/81 after indications from the Reserve Bank that it would ask exporters and companies to bring back dollars kept in foreign currency accounts at home and overseas banks, says our correspondent.

The slump came on a day when Reserve Bank governor Bimal Jalan was locked in huddles with key economic ministries in Delhi, explaining to them the reasons and the remedies for the currency�s woes. He told reporters after a meeting with the finance ministry that that the central bank would examine how the $ 2 billion stashed away in Export Earners� Foreign Currency Accounts can be unlocked.    



Maximum: 30.9�C (-l)
Minimum: 26.4�C (normal)


6.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 86%


A few spells of light rain in some parts of the city and its suburbs
Sunset: 6.09 pm
Sunrise: 5.14 am

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