Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Indian rebels shot dead in a gunbattle with security forces

AFP , GUWAHATI AND NEW DELHI, INDIA

Indian security forces shot dead two suspected militants in northeastern Assam State after the rebels killed 62 people over the weekend, police said yesterday.

"The two were probably part of an attack mission when a security patrol challenged them. Both of them were killed in gunbattle," a senior police official said.

The rebels were killed late on Sunday in eastern Sivasagar district.

On Sunday, suspected militants from the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) killed seven more poor migrant workers in new attacks near Sivasagar, 400km east of Assam's main city, Guwahati.

Sunday was the third consecutive day of violence, during which police said unskilled migrant workers from the eastern state of Bihar had been singled out for attacks.

An indefinite curfew clamped late on Saturday was expected to be relaxed for a few hours yesterday, officials said.

Hours before Sunday's attack on civilians Sriprakash Jaiswal, India's junior home minister, made a fresh offer to hold peace talks with the ULFA while on a visit to review security.

The national government last year held several rounds of talks with ULFA representatives to pave the way for direct talks with the rebels, but differences persist over conditions set by the separatists.

The ULFA says it is fighting for an independent homeland in the remote state of 26 million people.

Meanwhile Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday he hoped that India and Pakistan would eventually be able to sign a long-term peace treaty.

"I earnestly hope that relations between our two countries become so friendly that we can generate an atmosphere of trust between each other and that the two nations are able to agree on a treaty of peace, security and friendship," Singh said.

His comments came ahead of a visit to Pakistan, scheduled for Saturday, by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The visit will include a review of the peace process launched in January 2004.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf last month said he was opposed to independence for Kashmir, but India and Pakistan would have to compromise over the disputed territory and be prepared to give up their positions.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of arming and training Islamic militants battling its rule in Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir and sponsoring attacks elsewhere in the country.

More than 44,000 people have been killed since the 1989 outbreak of a separatist insurgency against Indian rule.

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