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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
India cracks down in Kashmir
Indian soldiers in Srinagar
Searches can be carried out without a warrant
Indian security forces have been granted sweeping new powers to stem the growing violence in the Hindu-dominated region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The extension of the Disturbed Areas Act comes after a wave of violence targeting Hindu civilians in the southern Jammu region in which more than 40 people have died.

But Kashmiri separatist leaders and human rights groups have reacted with concern at the move, saying it could lead to abuse by the security forces.

Regional map
Indian Home Minister LK Advani announced the extended powers in parliament on Thursday, which allow the security forces to act without being cleared by the civilian authorities.

"The government is determined to thwart the nefarious designs of the terrorists and their mentors across the border and not to let the counter-insurgency grid be thinned out," Mr Advani said, referring to Pakistan's alleged backing of the militants.

Under the new powers, the security forces - including the army - can:

  • arrest and detain suspects without a warrant
  • open fire without civilian authorisation
  • conduct searches

The Disturbed Areas Act was already in force in much of the Muslim-majority north.

State Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah requested the emergency measure after an attack at a train station in the city of Jammu on Tuesday left 11 people dead.

A curfew was imposed in Jammu after the railway station attack, which left more than 30 injured and may have been aimed at Indian troops on board a train which had just pulled in to the station.

I therefore think the situation may further aggravate than change

Separatist leader Abdul Gani Bhat
The attack - which follows several others - comes after the failure of talks between India and Pakistan last month over their differences on Kashmir.

The Indian Government is under tremendous pressure from the opposition, which accuses it of failing to protect civilians.

Human rights worry

But the move to grant special powers to the security forces is opposed by Kashmiri separatists, human rights groups and even some political parties.

Indian security personnel in Kashmir
There is concern that the powers could be abused
They argue that the powers have been in place in large parts of the state and had not been able to check the violence.

"I therefore think the situation may further aggravate than change," Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the main separatist alliance, said.

Others said that the security forces already had enough powers and the increase in their authority would only lead to more violence.

"There is no military solution to the Kashmir issue," Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party said.

Security concern

Jammu was already on heightened alert after earlier attacks in the area.

No group has as yet said it carried out the attack at the station.

About a dozen Kashmiri militant groups are fighting for independence from India, which controls about 45% of the region.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring militant attacks in Kashmir, but Pakistan says it provides only moral and diplomatic support.

The BBC's Satish Jacob in Delhi
"Human rights groups will concerned at these far-reaching powers"
Alexander Evans, Centre for Defence Studies
"It is not clear that the state government knows who the militants are"
Sankarshan Thakur of the Indian Express
"These are sweeping powers"
See also:

07 Aug 01 | South Asia
Carnage in Kashmir railway attack
07 Aug 01 | South Asia
Kashmir militant leader killed
06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Strike held over Kashmir killings
17 Jul 01 | South Asia
Militants to step up Kashmir attacks
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