Talks fail, Jammu agitation to continue (Second Lead)

August 9th, 2008 - 10:23 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Shivraj Patil

Jammu, Aug 9 (IANS) Hopes of an end to violent protests in Jammu were dashed when talks here Saturday between an all-party national delegation and the group spearheading the agitation demanding land for the Amarnath shrine board failed. While the protesters announced they would continue their agitation, the government said it would work on a solution acceptable to all sides. The Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, a conglomerate of over 30 groups leading the agitation said the talks were “inconclusive” and announced it would carry on with its campaign.

“We have told Home Minister (Shivraj Patil) and other delegation members that our agitation will continue unless the central government comes out with a concrete proposal aimed at restoration of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board,” Samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma told reporters.

He said the delegation did not make any promise on the issue.

“We have placed our demands, and we will continue with our agitation,” he said and added: “The all-party delegation’s appeal that the agitation should be called off and peace restored is untenable unless the demands are fulfilled.”

Patil, who led the delegation, said the central government would attempt to work out a solution which would be acceptable to the people of Jammu and of Kashmir alike.

Talking to reporters late Saturday evening after several rounds of talks with various sections of society, Patil said: “We have heard different viewpoints including those of the Sangharsh Samiti and those would be discussed at the centre before arriving at a conclusion as to how to resolve the issue.”

The 18-member delegation arrived here in the morning and drove through deserted streets guarded by several hundreds of soldiers to reach Hotel Hari Niwas.

At some places, protesters managed to defy the curfew and raised anti-government slogans to press for the transfer of the 40-hectare forest land in north Kashmir, which was first allotted in May to the board managing the pilgrimage to the hill shrine and then reclaimed July 1 after protests in the valley.

Women from rooftops of their houses raised religious slogans and banged utensils in protest, even as soldiers watched from below.

“Go back, go back, go back to barracks,” a crowd shouted in unison at soldiers at the Rehari crossing, which falls on the route to the hotel, where the team met senior civil and police officials and army commanders.

The agitators were angry over the strict enforcement of curfew and termed it a denial of freedom of expression of their demand.

The land transfer issue has seen Jammu and Kashmir on the boil for over five weeks now, with incessant violent protests and clashes that have left at least 15 people dead.

Jammu has been reeling under a series of shutdowns and curfews amid violent protests.

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.

The delegation, which comprises representatives of major political parties including Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was to talk to the conglomerate of agitating parties in the Jammu region.

But the Sangarsh Samiti initially declined to talk “because the delegation includes Kashmiri leaders”.

It alleged central Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-Din Soz, who is also state Congress chief, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 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 - made us rethink our decision and boycott the meet,” Leela Karan Sharma told IANS.

Following the agitators’ condition, the delegation finally met them with the Kashmir-based leaders abstaining themselves.

An all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi Aug 6 had decided to send a delegation to find a way out of the impasse and review the law and order situation in Jammu region with the state authorities.

The team is expected to meet leaders of various political parties in a bid to end the crisis. It is also scheduled to visit summer capital Srinagar Sunday for talks with various political parties on the situation in the Valley.

The central team also includes Amar Singh (Samajwadi Party), Mohsina Kidwai, Prithviraj Chavan and Sriprakash Jaiswal (Congress), K.C. Tyagi (Janata Dal-United), R. Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party), Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (Rashtriya Janata Dal), A. Raja (DMK), Naresh Gujral (Shiromani Akali Dal), Akhthar Hassan (Bahujan Samaj Party), Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and D. Raja (Communist Party of India).

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