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Kashmir Blast Kills 26 - 2004-05-23


A bus in the Indian controlled part of Kashmir has hit a land-mine, killing at least 26 paramilitary border guards and wounding a dozen other people.

Kashmir's leading rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities in Kashmir say the powerful blast destroyed the bus and set it ablaze. The vehicle was carrying members of the Border Security Force from the state of Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital -- Srinagar -- to the winter capital in Jammu. At least two civilians traveling behind the bus were among the wounded.

The attack came a day after Manmohan Singh was sworn in as India's new prime minister. He has vowed to make bilateral relations with Pakistan a top priority of his administration and to work for peaceful solutions to differences with the long-time -- including Kashmir.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf welcomed the pledge, in a letter sent to Mr. Singh congratulating him on become prime minister.

Various Islamic militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir's separation from India since 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the violence, but the fighting has been much less intense in the past year.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947 -- two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The nuclear rivals came close to a fourth armed conflict in 2002.

Bilateral tensions eased after Mr. Singh's predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, initiated peace moves more than a year ago. The South Asian neighbors resumed a formal dialogue in February after a 2 1/2 year suspension, when they agreed on a basic plan to resolve their disputes, including Kashmir.

Mr. Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, took office Saturday as India's 13th head of government. He is the first non-Hindu and the first from India's Sikh minority to assume the post.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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