July 2000 News

Tension simmers in Ladakh after killings

13 July 2000
Indian Express

Srinagar: Comunal tension is brewing in Ladakh. There is an indefinite curfew imposed in Leh and the situation is tense in Zanskar after the killing of three monks by unidentified gunmen yesterday. ''We have imposed curfew in the Leh city as a precautionary measure earlythis morning,'' said Naveen Chowdhary, Deputy Commissioner, Leh. ''Twelvepersons from both the communities have been put in preventive custody toavoid flaring up of violence,'' he said. The trouble started with the derogatory remarks made by the vice-presidentof the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) Sonam Gombo on the holy Quran.Though LBA immediately regretted the remarks made by their senior office-bearer, that had hurt the sentiments of Muslims and issued a writtenapology, the feelings could not be assuaged. The Muslim community wasdemanding action against Gombo. ''It was a slip of the tongue but we havebeen apologising to avoid any trouble in the city,'' said Tsering Samphel,president, LBA. ''The vice-president was also asked to resign''. However, as the situation was coming to normal in Leh, three monks werekilled in Rangdum monastery near Pagdun, Zanskar in Kargil district.Though the State Government revealed the killings were a militancy-related incident which have nothing to do with the communal tension in Leh,the LBA president Tsering Samphel claimed it to be a reaction to thehappenings at Leh. ''We had apologised to our Muslim brethren and things were coming tonormal but the reaction in Kargil have again flared up the tension,'' Samphel said. Refuting the State Government''s claim that the monks were killed by militants, Samphel said that ''Militants have never operated in the area during the past 12 years so how is it possible they will come and strike today?'' Minister of State for Works and NC legislator from Kargil, Qamar Ali Akhoon,claimed that the killing of monks had nothing to do with the Leh tension.''These are two different incidents. But there are forces who want to connect the two to drive a wedge between the two communities,'' he said. Another junior minister (Agriculture) from Ladakh Tsetat Namgyal blamed Congress for the communal friction in Leh. ''Whom has it hit anyway? There is a indefinite curfew in Leh and the peak tourism season is ruined,'' he said. Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range A.K. Bhan said that the policewas inquiring into the incident. ''It seems to be a militant act,'' he said. The communal tension in Ladakh has their roots in the return of National Conference rule to the State, when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took over as Chief minister replacing Congress party''s Syed Mir Qasim soon after Indira-Sheikh accord of 1975. The Buddhist-dominated Leh had accused the NC of being Kashmir-centric and discriminating against them. The Leh agitation for a separation from Kashmir, seeking a UT status again resurfaced to counter the greater autonomy demand for the State by ruling NC. The National Conference, however, accuses Congress for the trouble in the Buddhist-dominated Leh. They say it is Congress which lost power in 1975 and instigated people to take to streets and sponsored communal elements. NC leader from Kargil, Akhoon claims the demand of Union Territory on communal lines is a Congress gameplan. ''The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), which is at the forefront of the agitation, is nothing but a frontal group of Congress,'' he adds.


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