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|Pakistan police release Islamic activists by Mazhar Abbas|
|08/23/01 at 22:22:45|
|THU AUG 23 2001 07:08 A.M. G.M.T. |
Pakistan police release Islamic activists by Mazhar Abbas
KARACHI, Aug 23 (AFP) - Pakistani police have released almost 200 members of groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir after a surprise crackdown in Sindh province, officials said Thursday.
Police said the men were freed around midnight Wednesday on assurances that they would obey a provincial order to remove sign-boards and public donation boxes to raise funds for jihad (holy war).
"We have released the majority of them on their assurances while some 25 to 30 activists will be freed later today," said a senior police officer who did not want to be named.
The activists, mostly members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al-Badar, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Mujahideen, were rounded up in a lightning police operation overnight Tuesday.
They are some of the most prominent Islamic groups operating in Indian-occupied Kashmir where a bloody Muslim separatist insurgency has claimed more than 35,000 lives in the past 12 years.
India accuses Islamabad of abetting "cross-border terrorism" in the Muslim-majority Himalayan state and points to the ease with which Pakistan-based activists cross the disputed Kashmiri border.
Islamabad denies the charge and offers open diplomatic support to what it describes as the legitimate "freedom struggle" of Kashmiri Muslims.
But the military government has been trying to respond to international and domestic pressure to contain religious groups without angering the powerful forces of Islamic ideals in the country.
The crackdown on public fund-raising and signs in Sindh, announced earlier this week, has not been matched in other provinces, leading to confusion about the federal government's stance.
Interior ministry officials in the capital Islamabad were not available to comment Thursday.
Police removed sign-boards from offices in this southern port city Wednesday and confiscated fund raising boxes from public places such as restaurants and shops.
"The decision to release the activists came after a meeting of senior police officials and the provincial administration late Wednesday night," the police officer said.
Officials in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province and the key area of public support for jihad groups, said there were no plans to follow Sindh's move.
Police in the Punjab capital Lahore last week arrested more than 200 people in a similar sweep against sectarian groups blamed for hundreds of religious murders in Pakistan in recent years.
Musharraf last week banned underground sectarian outfits Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan.
Copyright (c) 2001, AFP
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