Militant 'traitor' Warning To Kashmir Voters

13 April 2009
Agence Presse-France

Srinagar: The head of the largest Muslim rebel group in Indian Kashmir warned Monday that voting in upcoming elections would be the act of 'traitors', after a top separatist decided to contest the polls. Those taking part in the ballot, which begins Thursday, 'will be considered traitors who are selling-out the blood of martyrs,' said Syed Salahudin, the Pakistan-based supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahedin. 'People should not participate and let the sacrifices of the martyrs go to waste,' Salahudin said in a statement. Militant groups fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir have backed up past election boycotts with death threats. Hizbul Mujahedin is the most powerful militant group active in the region where a two decade-old insurgency has claimed 47,000 lives, according to official figures. Although he did not mention him by name, Salahudin's stern warning came just two days after the surprise announcement by a leading Muslim separatist, Sajad Lone, that he would contest the general election from Baramulla, one of six parliamentary constituencies in northern Kashmir. Separatist groups have long argued that taking part in elections in Kashmir is tantamount to accepting Indian sovereignty over the scenic Himalayan region. 'Fighting elections is a change of strategy not ideology,' insisted Lone, 41, a vocal, high-profile opponent of Indian rule. Despite a similar boycott call, state elections in Kashmir last year witnessed an unprecedented 60 percent voter turnout - a figure the government in New Delhi was swift to hail as a 'victory for democracy' and a vote for national integration. 'My aim is to enter parliament and represent Kashmir in India,' Lone said. 'I am in my humble capacity trying to reorient our struggle and bring it in tune with the existing realities as I perceive them.'