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Wave of Kashmir strife kills 35

Hindus targeted in Indian region

DODA, India -- Violence by Islamic militants aimed at Indian-controlled Kashmir's Hindu minority has left 35 dead, police said yesterday, just ahead of a planned meeting between the divided region's political separatists and India's prime minister.

In one village, militants disguised as soldiers coaxed residents from their homes and then gunned down 22 of them. It was the bloodiest attack by Islamic guerrillas in Kashmir since a 2003 truce between India and Pakistan.

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, suggested that the killings would not hamper efforts to find peace in the Himalayan region.

''People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly," Singh said.

India has accused Pakistan of backing the militants, even as the two countries have discussed peace. Singh, however, stopped short of blaming Islamabad.

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 of them in army uniforms, slipped into the village of Thava after dark Sunday and, using local guides, told villagers 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 Doda, near Thava, 600 miles north of New Delhi.

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

For centuries, Kashmir's Hindus, the Pandits, lived amid the Muslim majority.

But the Pandits have been targeted relentlessly by Islamic insurgents who have been fighting since 1989 to wrest the part of Kashmir controlled by New Delhi from largely Hindu India.

Most have fled, many to squalid refugee camps in safer parts of India. About 2,000 Pandits have been killed in the insurgency, which has claimed nearly 67,000 lives. The remaining 25,000 Pandits in Kashmir, one-tenth of the preinsurgency population, are subject to attacks.

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: Map of Jammu and Kashmir
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