All-party meet appeals for peace in Jammu and Kashmir, violence continues (Roundup)

August 7th, 2008 - 1:02 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi/Jammu/Srinagar, Aug 6 (IANS) An all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday appealed for peace in a desperate bid to end Jammu and Kashmir’s worst communal divide in six decades that has claimed at least 14 lives in more than a month. At the all-party meeting’s marathon session in the capital, the prime minister appealed for calm in a state torn by communal violence that has challenged his efforts at giving a healing touch to the people of the state.

Even as the government did not rule out the possibility of transferring land to the shrine board, violence escalated and a general shutdown was called by separatists, throwing normal life out of gear in the Kashmir Valley.

Authorities have strengthened the deployment of paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the police throughout Jammu and Kashmir summer capital Srinagar to prevent violent protests.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of transferring land,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said after the all-party meeting that was attended by representatives of 36 parties including all the major ones from Kashmir.

According to Mukherjee, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad briefed the meeting “about the facilities created, presently and proposed for the pilgrims of the Amarnath yatra”.

“The government agreed that all necessary facilities for the Amarnath pilgrims would be provided,” Mukherjee said while reading out from a prepared statement, adding that the meeting called for initiating a dialogue to defuse the simmering anger in the state.

The allotment of 40 hectares of land to the shrine board earlier this year had angered the Muslim-majority Valley and the revocation of the order on July 1 sparked violent protests in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region.

The troubled state has been witnessing unrest since May 26 when the government allotted the land in the valley to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Fourteen people in both regions have already died in clashes that have acquired a communal edge and protests, violence and shutdowns have become a daily occurrence.

“The meeting felt it was imperative that communalisation of the situation should be prevented at all costs as this would adversely impact on the secular fabric of the nation,” Mukherjee said while reading from the statement.

“Leaders of all parties present agreed that the situation was serious and that immediate remedial action was called for.

“There was unanimity among all those present that the first step was the restoration of peace and normalcy.

To manage the situation, eight of the 10 members of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board stepped down to facilitate a possible reconstitution of the temple trust that has been at the heart of the over a month-long stir.

The members have tendered their resignations to Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, who is ex officio chairman of the trust, highly placed sources said.

“The resignations are under the consideration of the governor,” said a spokesman of the SASB.

The members who have resigned are Justice (retd) G.D. Sharma, Vishnu Murti Shastri, Sunil Sachdeva, Manoj Gaur, Vimla Dhar, Neerja Mattoo, Raghu Modi and Arun Kumar.

Thirty-nine political parties were invited for the meeting at the prime minister’s official residence here that started at 4.30 p.m. and continued till 8.15 p.m.

Three parties - Tamil Nadu’s MDMK, the Kerala Congress and the Sikkim Democratic Front did not attend it.

Answering a question, Mukherjee said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) representatives Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Jaswant Singh were “supportive” during the meeting.

Mukherjee also ruled out the recall of Governor N.N. Vohra that has been demanded by Hindu organisations in the Valley

Asked whether an all-party delegation would visit the state, Mukherjee said: “Various suggestions have come and whenever anyone would go, you will come to know of it.”

Asked whether talks would be held with the people of the state, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said: “It will happen soon.”

Apart from Azad, the other leaders from the state who spoke extensively during the meeting were Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party.

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