All-party delegation arrives in Jammu amid curfew (Lead)

August 9th, 2008 - 1:13 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Shivraj Patil

Jammu, Aug 9 (IANS) Curfew was imposed strictly here Saturday when an all-party 18-member delegation led by central Home Minister Shivraj Patil arrived to hold talks over the Amarnath land row - an issue that has created a communal wedge between Jammu and Kashmir. The delegation reached the winter capital of the state here early Saturday and is expected to seek a solution to the land dispute, which has had the entire Jammu and Kashmir being on the boil for over five weeks, with incessant violent protests and clashes that left at least 15 people dead.

The delegation, which comprises representatives of major political parties including Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitly, headed to a heritage hotel straightaway.

But the talks have already hit a block after the conglomerate of agitating parties in the Jammu region refused to meet the central delegation.

The Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (AYSS), an umbrella organisation of some 30 Hindu groups that has been spearheading the campaign for the allocation of forest land to the management board of a Himalayan cave temple in Kashmir, declined to talk “because the delegation includes Kashmiri leaders”.

The AYSS alleged that central Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-Din Soz, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti - who are part of the delegation - were “responsible” for the land row.

“We had decided to take part in the all-party meet and place our viewpoint before them. But the very presence of three major Kashmiri leaders - Soz, Abdullah and Mufti - has made us rethink our decision and boycott the meet,” AYSS convenor Leela Karan Sharma told IANS.

A state government official told IANS that the schedule of the talks has been altered.

“The delegation will first meet officials before meeting representatives of political parties of Jammu, whether national or regional,” the official said. The delegation will brief the media at 4 p.m.

Jammu has been reeling under a series of shutdowns. An indefinite curfew continues in many communally sensitive districts of the region, which was relaxed for a few hours Friday.

But the Indian Army Saturday strictly enforced the prohibitory orders in view of the all-party talks.

It is for the first time in the past three days that there has not been even a single minute of relaxation.

“We don’t want any trouble,” an official told IANS.

The official fears are rooted in the fact that protesters had laid siege around the airport and Raj Bhavan last week when Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti arrived here for an all-party meet convened by Governor N.N. Vohra.

The stir started when the previous Congress-led coalition government May 26 allotted a 40-hectare plot of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board - the management body of the cave temple in south Kashmir Himalayas. But the order was revoked July 1 after violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

Ever since, Hindus in Jammu, opposed to the land revocation orders, have been protesting and demanding the allocation of the land to the temple trust.

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