Govt rushes to scotch hint of Kashmir deal
Mother waits for pay from Paris
Battered sergeant opens fire
Army returns to fight militancy

New Delhi, Sept 16 
India today scurried to deny Pakistan?s assertion that the neighbours had been on the verge of striking a deal on Kashmir at the height of the Kargil war.

Aware that the slightest delay could cast a shadow on the government?s resolve to safeguard national interest, the foreign ministry issued an emphatic denial to scotch all speculation.

?The suggestion about resolving the Kashmir issue within a timeframe is completely denied. The Kashmir issue is one of the eight subjects of our composite dialogue process with Pakistan,? spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz had dropped the bombshell about a possible Kashmir pact between the countries during a debate in the Pakistani Senate yesterday.

Aziz said the neighbours had been on the verge of striking a deal and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was scheduled to stop over at Delhi on his way back from Beijing to sign the agreement. But the Vajpayee-led government backed out at the last moment, saying it could not strike such a crucial deal in its caretaker capacity.

With the third phase of the general elections scheduled for Saturday, Delhi?s denial was as prompt as it was forceful. ?The proposal for a stop-over by the Pakistan Prime Minister here on his way from China is fanciful,? Jassal said.

The foreign ministry spokesman added that the government was committed to the resolution passed by Parliament in 1994, stating that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. There would be no compromise on the issue, Jassal said.

The Congress, however, grabbed the chance to put Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on the mat. Party spokesman Kapil Sibal said Vajpayee should ?clearly and unambiguously tell the nation the full extent of his secret dealings with Nawaz Sharif?.

A hornet?s nest was stirred in the Senate yesterday while Aziz was reacting to remarks made by the Pakistan Prime Minister?s special envoy, Niaz Naik. In a recent interview, Naik had alleged that the countries almost finalised the Kashmir deal, but things went haywire after the Pakistan army embarked on the Kargil misadventure.

Aziz?s remarks evoked loud protests from Pakistani generals, who sought an immediate explanation from the Nawaz Sharif government. In his bid to calm frayed tempers, Aziz first said the Pakistan army had acted in the best interests of the nation, and its role could not be questioned. He then deftly put the blame on India, saying it developed cold feet at the last moment and backed out of an agreement to resolve the Kashmir dispute in a time-bound manner.

India cannot deny that Naik was in Delhi during the Kargil conflict, and that he met senior BJP leaders. Naik had called on both the Prime Minister and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

The Centre had then declined to disclose the proposals brought by Naik to end the war, but it said that the visit was the outcome of the phone conversation between the two Prime Ministers.

?Our position on the issue was clear. We had asked them to vacate the intrusion from Kargil as a pre-requisite for any further dialogue,? Jassal said today.

But he remained ambiguous on whether a senior diplomat and R.K. Mishra, of the Ambani-owned The Observer of Business and Politics, had gone to Pakistan to hold talks with the Sharif government during the Kargil conflict.    

Ranchi, Sept. 16 
Karmi Oraon came to town today.

The illiterate manual labourer, who looks like she is about 60 years old, was here to open a bank account. One of her daughters is Lalita Oraon, the 19-year-old tribal maid of an Indian diplomat in Paris. Lalita?s plight in the diplomat?s household is being highlighted by a European NGO in a sex-and-slavery scandal.

The reason Karmi came to town was to open a bank account for which she had to get herself photographed. When she last saw Lalita, the teenager was bidding farewell. ?She was off to videsh on a bus,? recalls Karmi.

That was in January this year. Later that month, Karmi received a letter from Paris. ?I cannot read or write,? she says.

?So others in the village read it out to me. I don?t remember now what it said and I have not even kept it with me.?

And, no, she insists, Lalita as she knows her, is neither ?hysterical? nor ?insane?.

Lalita is Karmi?s second-born after a son, Sudan. She was followed by two more daughters ? Magdali and Anjali ? and another boy, Albina. They live in Hehal, a village about 4 km west of here, where Karmi is a ?reja? ? a manual labourer ? at a site owned by a Ranchi businessman.

Karmi says she has never received any money from Lalita or her employers, the Luguns, who are also from Ranchi. But she was in town today to open a bank account, nine months after Lalita ?left for videsh on a bus? and days after the Committee Against Modern Day Slavery (CCEM) brought charges against First Secretary Amrit Lugun.

Lugun?s family insists they have paid Karmi every month for Lalita?s services. Pradip Topno, a relative of Amrit Lugun, said Lalita was sent to Paris to work as governess for the Luguns? children. Under the contract, her salary was Rs 2000 per month.

Topno said the Luguns were dissatisfied with Lalita who was ?hysterical?. On one occasion, said Topno, she had even thrown one of the children from the pram during a walk. He did not know if Lalita had a past record of hysteria. Topno said Lalita?s mother had been sent to Jamshedpur to attend a wedding in the family. She would return only on Sunday.

Our Delhi Bureau adds: Praveen Goel, additional secretary (administration) in the Ministry of External Affairs, would be in Paris to look into the sex-and-slavery scandal.

?We are in touch with the French government through our mission in Paris to ascertain the facts,? Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

First Secretary Amrit Lugun has been charged by the CCEM with maltreating his maid. The maid was found loitering in Paris streets last week. A medical examination has reportedly revealed that she had been sexually abused.

Though there are indications that the young first secretary is being recalled, the spokesman maintained no decision has been taken yet. ?Further comments will not only be unnecessary but also unfair?, said Jassal.

Reports with the Indian foreign ministry from France suggest that though the NGO had sought to turn the scandal into a major issue, it has not been played up prominently in the French press.    

Calcutta, Sept. 16 
Violence rocked Taratala and adjoining areas in south Calcutta today after a beleaguered traffic sergeant opened fire to repulse a CPM-instigated mob, injuring a bus driver.

Before police reinforcements reached the Taratala crossing on the busy Diamond Harbour Road, the mob, consisting of private bus drivers and conductors owing allegiance to Citu, the CPM?s labour wing, had torched the policeman?s motorbike as well as a roadside auto emission testing kiosk.

The mob went on the rampage stoning vehicles, manhandling passers-by and damaging shops which triggered miles of tailbacks. The arterial road was almost out of commission from 3.45 pm till late tonight. People got off a few hundred stationary buses, taxis, minibuses and trams and walked to their destinations. Ambulances, too, got caught in the snarl.

Police said the trouble began when traffic sergeant Debasish Chakraborty stopped a private bus on route No 13 for violating rules and asked the driver to hand over his papers for booking.

Sheikh Alam, the driver, refused to part with the documents and dared Chakraborty to act against him. When Chakraborty insisted on a booking, the conductors and helper joined in and began to heckle the policeman. All the while the crowd, among them some local hoodlums known to the driver also.

Eyewitnesses said the situation spun out of control when a group, led by Alam, violently shoved the sergeant around and tried to snatch his revolver. Chakraborty was forced to the ground by the pummelling he was receiving.

The mob then kicked his motor-cycle off its stand and set it on fire before renewing its attack on the sergeant. It was at this stage that Chakraborty reached for his revolver and fired at Alam.

The bullet hit Alam in the stomach and he collapsed on the road. Almost simultaneously, Chakraborty fell unconscious, unable to bear the beating.

Reinforcements began arriving on the scene with other traffic sergeants informing the control room about the trouble. Two of the first police jeeps to arrive carried Alam and Chakraborty to hospital.

All this while a large number of buses belonging to route 13 converged on the area and the drivers left them in the middle of the road junction, blocking traffic from all ends. This threw traffic totally out of control.

The incident took a political complexion when local CPM zonal committee members, Ashis Chatterjee and Subhrojyoti Ghosh came to the spot. Emboldened by their arrival, the crowd of bus drivers and conductors set fire to an auto pollution checking kiosk opposite Taratala police station.

The CPM members entered into an argument with K. Harirajan, deputy commissioner (traffic), who was pushed by one of them. At this, the assembled crowd comprising Citu-affiliated private bus employees tried to assault the police officer.

The police then made a lathi-charge to disperse the crowd. Led by the CPM leaders, the crowd lay down on the road chanting anti-police slogans. The police then cordoned off the Taratala crossing.    

Srinagar, Sept. 16 
The army, pulled out for the Kargil conflict, is returning for counter-insurgency operations.

Jammu and Kashmir Police chief Gurbachan Jagat said 60 battalions of the army are being re-inducted in the state. He said a big offensive will be mounted against militants who have intensified activities following the Kargil intrusion.

Jagat admitted that the ?counter-insurgency grid? had weakened as 60 battalions of army regulars were withdrawn from counter-insurgency duties and deployed in Kargil. ?The pre-Kargil deployment is being restored,? he said, expecting the exercise to be completed this week itself. He said 1,500 to 2,000 militants had slipped in across the border.

?Instead of hiding in the forests, these militants came down near villages. There were incidents when they managed to sneak into heavily guarded camps,? he said. Jagat denied the militants had stormed these camps. The decision to re-deploy the army to combat the intruders was taken at a meeting in Delhi on Tuesday presided over by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah had earlier announced in his poll meetings that army troops were being re-inducted for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir. Jagat said the additional deployment of troops was going to ?instil confidence among the voters in Barramullah and Kupwara constituency going to polls on September 18?.

On the recent attempts by militants to disrupt polling and the killing of the BJP candidate for Anantnag, Jagat admitted that there were not enough troops during polling this year. ?The state was provided only seven companies this time compared to 358 companies in 1998,? he said. Elaborate security arrangements have been made for polling on September 8, he said, adding that troops and police meant for polling in Anantnag are on their way to Barramullah.    


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