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|April 20, 1998||
'The village resembled a ghost area with beheaded bodies lying scattered'
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Unidentified militants beheaded 26 Hindu villagers, including women and children, in Prankote and Dakikote, two hilly villages in the upper reaches of Udhampur district in Jammu region, two days ago.
"There are only two survivors," Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, who visited the massacre sites on Monday morning along with Union Home Minister L K Advani, said, "The rest have all been butchered."
He said the militants entered the village at night, forced entry into four homes belonging to the minority community, and slaughtered them in cold blood. Seven members of a family were charred beyond recognition when the militants torched their house.
"A girl who received major burn injuries managed to escape, but we found her body in a gorge -- she had succumbed to her injuries while fleeing,'' Dr Abdullah said.
A massive hunt has been launched to nab the militants, the CM said. No group has owned responsibility for the killings, which come less than three months after the Wandhama massacre.
The police party which was rushed to the site had to be airlifted on Monday morning. The terrain, a police officer who returned with the CM said, was 'very difficult', and it would have taken the police another day to reach Prankote and Dadikote.
"The village resembled a ghost area, with beheaded bodies lying scattered," he recollected, "There was no one around."
The party found two survivors, both girls, who were in shock and unable to speak. "It is difficult to say at this stage if there are any other survivors," the official said.
The Union home minister and chief minister were the first to reach the spot. It was after their arrival that helicopters were pressed into service to airlift the police party which was still on its way, even after a two-day trek.
Dr Abdullah denied there was any delay on state government's part to react to the tragedy. "This a shocking incident. I have seen tragedies earlier, but this was bloodcurdling. No bullets were fired, the villagers were butchered."
"It was a gruesome sight," Advani added.
The Union home minister said the main aim of the massacre was to force the migration of the minority community from the area. The visit had given him an idea about the situation prevailing in the state, he said. Complete coordination was needed to defeat the designs of the enemy. He offered to hold talks with separatists, including leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
"We will talk to everyone but the talks have to be held under the (provisions of the) Constitution," Advani said.
He said the vigil on the borders would be intensified to prevent infiltration of militants -- if needed, more paramilitary forces would be deployed.
The home minister also visited Ahgam, where 60 houses were recently destroyed in a four-day long gun battle between militants and security forces. Seven militants and four armymen were killed in the incident.
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