Srinagar attack not to stop bus, says Singh
6 April 2005
Srinagar: India's prime minister pledged on Wednesday that the first trans- Kashmir bus service in almost 60 years would go ahead as planned despite a bloody attack by militants on a complex housing passengers. Two militants were killed and eight people - seven civilians and a policeman - were injured when the guerillas attacked and torched the heavily guarded complex. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the historic bus from the Srinagar to Muzaffarabad would leave on Thursday as planned. 'It is an unfortunate incident. These are desperate acts of desperate people,' the prime minister's spokesman Sanjaya Baru told AFP quoting Singh, adding that the attack would not affect the peace process with Pakistan. 'There is no change regarding the flagging-off of the bus service. The peace process and the journey of peace will go on,' he added. In Islamabad on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri condemned the attack. 'We express grave sorrow at this very unfortunate incident,' Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri told reporters. 'We condemn this incident.' 'This particular thing is really unbelievable because they have committed no crime,' he said of the passengers. 'All they wanted to do is to meet their loved ones from whom they have been separated.' Mr Kasuri declined to comment when asked if the attack in Srinagar, would force the postponement of Thursday's start of the first bus service between the India and Pakistan sides of Kashmir in 50 years. Terrified people were seen leaving the complex in the heart of held Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, which also houses a number of government departments, as gunfire rang out and as huge orange flames engulfed a building. Television channel Zee News showed footage of a woman falling in the middle of the road. As she was lifted by journalists gathered at the site, it became clear she had a big wound in her back from which blood was oozing. Four militant groups who last week warned Kashmiris not to ride the bus linking the two Kashmiris claimed responsibility in calls to local newspapers. Al-Nasireen, Save Kashmir Movement, Farzandan-i-Millat and al-Arifeen had termed the bus a 'coffin' and labelled all those boarding it 'traitors'. Mr Singh is due Thursday to flag off the service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Pakistan Kashmir, while a bus bringing passengers in the other direction will run simultaneously. The bus link agreed upon by nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan in February is seen as the first tangible result of the 14- month long peace process between the two nations who have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region. Neeraj Sharma, spokesman for the paramilitary Border Security Force, said all 25 passengers due to ride the first bus were safe. Pakistan denounced the attack, with foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani saying that 'no religion allows this sort of violence.' 'The Kashmir bus service is a humanitarian gesture meant to alleviate the sufferings of those who are longing to meet their loved ones,' Jilani told AFP in Islamabad. In New Delhi, Home Minister Shivraj Patil called a meeting of top officials to 'review the security arrangements' for the bus service, a ministry spokesman said. India has already announced tight security for the service and said it had stepped up patrols to make sure the landmark trip goes safely. On Tuesday suspected rebels detonated a landmine on the route injuring seven people, while troops defused two more landmines on the same route. But officials say the route and the bus will be protected. 'We are making fool-proof security arrangements to ensure safety and security of the passengers riding the bus,' Indian Kashmir's deputy police chief Javed Maqdoomi told AFP. 'We are keeping strict vigil on the entire stretch of the road and even the patrolling has been increased,' he said. Bus services between the two cities were suspended in 1947. -AFP - Reuters Click to learn more...