August 10, 2008 / 3:52 PM / 11 years ago

Kashmir leader ends hunger strike over land protest

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A top Kashmiri separatist leader ended a hunger strike on Sunday after authorities assured him they would work to stop the economic blockade of a Muslim-majority region by Hindu protestors.

Hindus in Kashmir’s winter capital of Jammu, demanding the state government transfer forest land to a Hindu shrine trust, have attacked lorries carrying supplies to the Kashmir valley.

The land row has sparked some of Kashmir’s worst religious riots since a separatist Muslim revolt against New Delhi broke out in 1989. At least eight people have died and hundreds have been injured in protests.

Mohammad Yasin Malik, chief of the separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front who began his hunger strike on Tuesday, agreed to end his fast on Sunday after authorities promised to intervene in the dispute.

“I was assured no economic blockade shall be allowed and every effort will be made to keep the highway open,” said Malik whose group is politically fighting for complete independence for Kashmir from both India and Pakistan.

The land row has polarized Indian Kashmir, split between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city.

The dispute began after the Kashmir government promised to give forest land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.

The government then backed down on its decision, which in turn angered many Hindus in Jammu, the winter capital of the region, which is under curfew for most of the week.

Traders say Muslim-majority Kashmir valley is running short of essentials, including fuel and medicine.

Kashmiri’s main separatist alliance, All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, has said it will lead a fleet of lorries carrying fruit and cross over on Monday to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, to sell their produce which was rotting because of the “economic blockade”.

But Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil urged Kashmiris not to cross a military control line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

“I request you don’t go by the other road. It is not good for us and not good for you as well,” Home Minister Shivraj Patil told a news conference.

Indian political leaders led by Patil held talks with Amarnath Yatra Sangrash Samiti, a Hindu group leading the protests, but has so far failed to arrive at a solution.

Undeterred by over a month of religious violence, Hindu pilgrims trekked daily through icy streams and frozen mountain passes to 3,800 metres (12,700 feet) high Amarnath cave shrine.

Officials say a record number of nearly 550,000 Hindu pilgrims traveled to the cave shrine this year to worship an ice stalagmite, believed to be the symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration.

(Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq, Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Mary Gabriel)

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