Amarnath talks on Saturday amid tension in Kashmir (Roundup)

August 8th, 2008 - 11:25 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Shivraj Patil

Srinagar/Jammu, Aug 8 (IANS) An all-party delegation led by union Home Minister Shivraj Patil will arrive in Jammu Saturday to hold talks over the Amarnath land row that has had Kashmir on the boil for the past five weeks, nearly bringing the state on a communal edge. The delegation is expected to have discussions with leaders of Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti, a conglomerate of over 30 Hindu groups, spearheading the agitation in Jammu for return of 40 hectares of land to the Amarnath temple managing board.

The decision to send a delegation was taken at an all-party meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday. On Sunday the delegation will visit Srinagar, where dozens of protesters, including policemen, were injured Friday when as security forces foiled attempts by demonstrators to reach the United Nations Military Observers Group (UNMOG) office.

In Jammu, the AYSS said the “talks would be fruitful only if the other side has any agreeable solution or formula”.

“Our basic demand is return of the land and that is what everyone should understand clearly,” said Leela Karan Sharma, convenor of the AYSS.

“It is a question of our sentiments and those should be respected. We are not asking for moon,” Sharma told reporters.

Meanwhile, protests continued in and around Jammu against the land allotment cancellation.

Stir over a plot of forest land, first transferred to and then reclaimed from the management board of Amarnath cave shrine, has nearly created a communal bridge between the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley and Hindu-majority Jammu plains.

While Muslims in the valley were opposed to the land transfer, Hindus have been protesting and demanding the return of the land to the temple trust.

At least 15 people have been killed during the more-than-five-week-long agitation in both Kashmir as well as Jammu.

In Srinagar, where life was crippled due to a separatist-sponsored shutdown, marchers protested alleged harassment of Muslims in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Muslims in Jammu allege that Hindu protesters were harassing them. After Friday prayers, a procession was taken out from Jamia Masjid in the old city towards the UNMOG office in uptown Sonwar area of Srinagar.

“The protesters were stopped midway as they resorted to heavy stone pelting at police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF),” a police officer said. The police used batons and tear smoke shells to disperse the protesters.

The protesters were shouting slogans in favour of the minority Muslim community in the Jammu region and against Hindu fundamentalist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Shiv Sena.

Srinagar city and all other major towns of the valley observed shutdown following a call by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), whose chairman Yasin Malik was hospitalised after his condition deteriorated Thursday after he began an indefinite fast Tuesday.

In Jammu, relentless protests continue as the city reels under curfew and shutdown past many weeks.

People Friday defied the orders banning assembly of five or more people and took the route of canals and rivers carrying national flags to stage their protests.

The authorities in the morning extended curfew in the border town of Poonch following clashes between Hindus and Muslims there. The army was called out to keep the situation under control, according to officials.

People of both communities came out on the streets Thursday night and held demonstrations over the issue of land allotment and its subsequent revocation. Places of worship of both communities were targeted by stone throwing mobs.

Curfew restrictions are already on in the towns of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Rajouri and Bhaderwah.

“It is as a matter of precaution that curfew has been imposed in Poonch,” an official said, explaining that some miscreants were trying to create a “communal rift” in the town where the demographic composition of Hindus and Muslims is almost 50:50.

In Jammu, curfew was relaxed for five hours from 5 a.m Friday and no untoward incident was reported.

“The overall situation in Jammu region remained under control,” a provincial level officer told IANS.

Curfew continues in seven towns - Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Rajouri, Bhaderwah, Poonch and Udhampur.

The AYSS also said Friday that Jammu will observe the shutdown for six more days (till Thursday). The winter capital of the state since June 26 has been observing shutdowns, briefly interrupted for four days from July 18 to July 22.

The necessity to “extend the shutdown was felt because the government is deaf and dumb” and has failed to hear the loud and clear sentiments of the people of Jammu for the return of the land, AYSS convenor Sharma told reporters.

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