Indian troops were yesterday mounting "search and destroy" missions in a mountainous zone of Kashmir where Muslim rebels blamed for massacring 35 Hindus were believed hiding, the army said.
"We will not let them go. We are determined," Indian army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel R.K. Chibbar said in Kashmir's winter capital of Jammu, where angry protests against the killing led to a general strike in the city yesterday.
The major hunt involved heliborne commandos and troops armed with mortars and rocket launchers in the forests of Doda and Udhampur districts, where suspected Islamic militants staged two deadly attacks on Sunday.
"Operations are on all over the place and depending on what intelligence we get, we will carry out search and destroy missions," Chibber said.
"Doda is in the hinterland and with our border fencings and electronic surveillance in place we don't think these militants can run away," Chibber said.
The rugged Doda district is about 400km south of Jammu and borders Pakistan.
Twenty-two villagers, mostly shepherds or their families, were lined up and shot at Thawa village in Doda on Sunday night. In the neighboring district of Udhampur, 12 Hindus kidnapped on Sunday by suspected rebels were shot dead. Four bodies were found on Sunday and eight more on Monday.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the sectarian massacres, the worst in the state in six years.
Singh was scheduled to hold a second round of direct talks with moderate leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference -- a forum of some one dozen Islamic separatist groups -- in New Delhi today.
The two sides are also to meet for a second roundtable on May 25 in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer capital. All such meetings are opposed by hardline separatist leaders.
Kashmir state Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad yesterday dubbed the massacre "an extreme kind of cowardice."
"These traders of death and bloodshed should read the writing on the wall, that the people of the state have rejected them forever and developed deep hatred against them," he said in Srinagar.
However, Hizbul Mujahedin, the region's dominant rebel group, said the massacre was a "deep-rooted conspiracy to defame militants."
"This is the handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies," Hizbul alleged in a statement which was angrily rejected by the army.
"This is utterly unthinkable. The army is here to protect people," said Lieutenant Colonel Vijay Batra, the military's chief spokesman in Srinagar.
None of Kashmir's two dozen Islamist rebel groups has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the first such massacre of Hindus since April 2004 when five pilgrims were slain in Pahalgam district.
Military officials say the killing was carried out by guerrillas belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the Army of the Pious, which has been blamed for many attacks in India.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. India insists that Islamic guerrilla training camps exist in the Pakistani zone despite an assurance from President Pervez Musharraf that they have been shut down.