Friday, June 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Centre to consider Hurriyat offer
Tribune News Service and PTI

Indian Army soldiers man a light machine gun atop their jeep outside the venue of a conference
Army soldiers man a light machine gun atop their jeep outside the venue of a conference attended by Defence Minister George Fernandes in Srinagar on Thursday. — Reuters photo

Srinagar, June 20
The Centre today reacted positively to Hurriyat Conference’s offer to go to Pakistan occupied Kashmir to broker a ceasfire between the militant leadership and security forces, saying that it, was “good and will be considered”.

“It is a good suggestion on which we can talk,” Defence Minister George Fernandes told reporters during his visit here in connection with a business seminar.

“It is possible and this can and will be considered,” said Mr Fernandes when asked about the proposal of allowing Hurriyat leaders to visit PoK and talk to the militant leadership for cessation of hostilities.

The separatist amalgam had, among other things, suggested yesterday triangular talks simultaneously with New Delhi and Islamabad and that the Indian Army must return to the barracks once the “mujahideen” agree to a ceasefire.

Mr Fernandes said there was a considerable decline in infiltration of armed militants from across the border in Jammu and Kashmir. He however, said there was no move to go ahead with de-escalation at this juncture.

Replying to questions at the end of the inauguration of a four-day industrial exhibition, “Kashmir Vision 2020”, at SKICC here, the Defence Minister said in view of the “bitter experiences in the past”, there were no plans of an immediate withdrawal of troops along the border of trouble-torn state. However the Defence Minister said there was no decline in militant activities in the state even as the troops had been active in guarding the borders.

To another question, the Defence Minister said there were clear indications of Al-Qaida camps operating on the other side of the border. He, however, evaded queries on reports of the presence of Al-Qaida militants active in the valley. Senior Army and paramilitary officers had here recently indicated that there were reports of the presence of two Al-Qaida units in the valley. One of these was based in the Bandipore area of Baramula district in north Kashmir while the other was based in the Beerwa area of Budgam district in central Kashmir.

The Defence Minister arrived here yesterday on a three-day tour of the state during which he is scheduled to visit forward posts. He was the chief guest at the inauguration of “Kashmir Vision-2020”. Earlier the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, was scheduled to attend the function, but his visit had been cancelled in view of some important engagements in the Union Capital, Mr Fernandes said.

Earlier, in his address at the inaugural function, Mr Fernandes lauded the role of the Army, both along the border and in the interiors. He said apart from defending the border during wars, the troops had been fighting militants within the state during the past years.

Mr Fernandes also referred to the Sadhbhavana projects launched by the Army in Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the militancy-affected areas. He resolved to extend all possible financial assistance in this direction. The Army had launched various goodwill programmes for the uplift of people, particularly children from far-flung areas of the state. Several groups of students had been sent to visit various parts of the country during the recent past, he added.

Speaking at the function, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah expressed concern over the “apathetic” attitude of the Centre and its bureaucracy for coming in the way of progress and development in this trouble-torn state.

He said industries were not allowed to flourish in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly after the eruption of militancy, and many industrialists had winded up their businesses.


Geelani threatens to end life over poor jail facilities
Our Correspondent

Ranchi, June 20
Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has threatened the Birsa Munda jail authorities of self-immolation if the living conditions and facilities made available to him were not improved immediately. Moreover, after an intelligence tip-off to the jail administration that mercenaries might attempt to free the jailed Hurriyat leader, the authorities are spending sleepless nights.

Mr Geelani has reportedly threatened of any extreme action if he was not provided with better facilities in jail. It has been alleged that since his lodging in the jail, he has been demanding a certain food regime, a coat, a mosquito net and other facilities but the Jail Superintendent has denied these to him. Ambiguity prevails as to what status be provided to the prisoner.

The police had earlier deputed special branch sleuths on duty around the jail. There have been reports about militants attempting to free Geelani. Some of the hardcore MCC men are also lodged in the same jail. The jail authorities have reportedly asked the state police to beef up security around the room where Geelani has been lodged.

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