Kashmir 'peace bus' attacked
| Thursday, 04.07.2005, 04:06 PM |   (797 views)

SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir -- The first bus service across disputed Kashmir in nearly 60 years came under fire minutes after it started its journey, according to local media.

Just minutes after the Indian bus left the Srinagar station, flagged by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it was fired on by a rifle grenade that fell short and caused no damage, police said.

Also along the route, Indian security officials found and defused a roadside bomb.

Anti-Indian separatist Kashmiri militants have condemned the resumption of the bus service in the disputed region as a "betrayal of peace."

The Indian bus is expected to reach the border crossing later Thursday.

Meanwhile, the bus that originated from Muzaffarabad in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir has been greeted by excited crowds, after crossing a bridge into the Indian-controlled sector.

'Significant gesture'

The bus service has been described as the most significant peace gesture between the two arch-rivals in decades of hostility.

No such bus services have run since the Kashmir dispute began in the mid-20th century, when modern India and Pakistan were formed.

The service follows an attack on a government compound housing bus passengers in Srinagar on Wednesday.

Four militant groups claimed responsibility for that attack, in which six people were injured and at least one attacker was killed.

Before seeing off the nearly two dozen passengers, Singh described the buses as "a caravan of peace."

Some passengers hugged Singh before boarding.

As many as seven passengers pulled out of the Muzaffarabad-bound trip following the Srinagar attack because they feared it was too dangerous, according to news service reports.

Six people were injured in Wednesday's attack but the passengers escaped unharmed and officials insisted they would go ahead with the bus service, AP reported. (Full story)

Passengers who had purchased tickets for the bus ride were staying in safe houses because of the threats, and none of them appeared to be at the tourist center at the time of the attack.

Indian security services were out in force Thursday, blocking off all access routes to the buses' departure point in Srinagar.

"The morale of the people and the passengers appears to be high," federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil said Wednesday evening.

"The bus will leave for Muzaffarabad according to schedule."

In Pakistan, officials also insisted the bus service would not be stopped, AP reports.

"Pakistan strongly condemns anyone attacking innocent people," Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri told reporters in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after Wednesday's attack.

"What is their crime? Their only wish is to meet with their relatives."

India and Pakistan agreed to start the bus service to help families separated by the dispute to be reunited.


CNN

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