Mujahideen Warn India Against Land Leasing
25 November 2006
Islamabad: Mujahideen warned Saturday of 'dire consequences' if Held Kashmir goes ahead with a plan to lease land at its showpiece ski resort to outside investors. The warning by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen groups came as a one-day strike called by political leader Syed Ali Geelani crippled life in the Held Valley. 'We warn outsiders of dire consequences if they (outside investors) enter into any lease agreement with the government,' Lashkar spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi told AFP by telephone. 'India wants to settle outsiders here so that Kashmiris are turned into a minority and their land is occupied forever,' Gaznavi said. A similar warning was issued by Hizbul Mujahideen against outside investment in the ski resort region, a focus of Held Kashmir's efforts to draw tourists to the state. State authorities have been seeking to promote the ski resort as a top Asian ski destination. The warnings came even though the state government has said it will re-examine the plan to lease land to private investors from outside as well as inside the state, an assurance given in the face of mounting local opposition. The Lashkar spokesman did not specify what action freedom fighters might take if the government proceeded with the plan aimed at bolstering infrastructure at Gulmarg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Srinagar, summer capital of Held Kashmir. But Indian authorities have blamed Lashkar and Hizbul for numerous deadly attacks in Indian Kashmir and elsewhere. Under both the Indian and the state's own constitution, people from outside Kashmir are barred from owning land in the region. However, there are no restrictions on leasing out land. The strike closed most shops, businesses and schools in Srinagar on Saturday, a normal working day, and people reached by telephone said it also hit life in other parts of the state. Few workers turned up at government offices, officials said. The strike was backed by rebels as well as moderate separatists, and even by the leading pro-India political party, National Conference. 'This order is aimed at strengthening the occupation of Kashmir,' said Geelani, leader of the hardline wing of the separatist alliance Hurriyat. 'We must stand up against it,' he said. The government said Thursday it would put the plan on hold. 'The people in the state are worried about the plan,' said Tourism Minister Dilawar Mir. 'We (the cabinet) will re-examine the order,' which was passed by the state cabinet two weeks ago. Meanwhile, four Indian soldiers and two suspected freedom fighters were killed in a fierce gunbattle in Held Kashmir, the army said Saturday. The fighting erupted late Friday when soldiers raided a rebel hideout in the southern village of Neldora following a tipoff, army spokesman Anil Kumar Mathur said. 'In the initial burst of firing by the militants four soldiers were seriously hurt. They later died in hospital,' Mathur said, adding two suspected freedom fighters were killed in the ensuing night-long gunbattle. 'We are trying to ascertain their identity,' he said.