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34 Killed in 2 New Attacks on India Buses

July 08, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

NEW DELHI — Gunmen believed to be Sikh terrorists attacked two buses Tuesday in the state of Haryana and reportedly killed as many as 34 passengers.

The incident occurred less than 24 hours after gunmen identified as Sikhs killed 38 Hindu passengers on a bus in the neighboring state of Punjab.

The attacks appeared to be part of a Sikh campaign to drive Hindus out of the Punjab region of northwest India and establish a Sikh homeland there.

Tuesday's was the fourth bus attack in the past year. In two others, last July 25 and Jan. 31, a total of 37 people were killed, most of them Hindus.

Two months ago, because of the increasing number of terrorist incidents, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi disbanded the elected government of Punjab and placed the state under direct federal control.

After Monday's attack, authorities here in the capital and in Haryana and Punjab states ordered the police to be on the alert for any Hindu retaliatory attacks on Sikhs. Public gatherings were banned in the two states, roadblocks were set up and the border between Punjab and Haryana was closed.

M. C. Gupta, secretary of home affairs in Haryana, said the first of Tuesday's attacks took place not far from the town of Fatehabad, about 120 miles northwest of New Delhi. Sikhs positioned jeeps and other vehicles across the road to halt the bus, then boarded it and opened fire with automatic weapons.

Four people on the bus were killed outright, and at least six others were wounded, Gupta said.

Second Bus Attacked

Not long afterward, another bus, approaching from the opposite direction, was also halted and boarded. According to Indian press reports, 30 passengers were killed on the second bus and at least 12 wounded.

The gunmen involved Tuesday reportedly behaved in a manner almost identical with that observed in Monday's incident, which took place near Chandigarh, capital of the state of Punjab. In addition to the 38 killed Monday, 32 others were wounded. Among the dead were five women and four children.

One of the attackers in the Punjab incident was killed, apparently in his companions' cross-fire. On his body the police found a note saying that Sikhs will "kill 100 Hindus for every Sikh killed."

Officials in New Delhi said it is extremely difficult to prevent such attacks on buses, thousands of which are on the roads every day.

One frustrated official here said, "You just can't really be watching all the roads and all the buses."

Hindu Reaction Feared

Officials feared that Hindus will react quickly and vigorously in light of the fact that some of the victims in Monday's incident were pilgrims headed for Rishikesh, a retreat located on the sacred Ganges River.

"Because they were pilgrims," an aide to Prime Minister Gandhi said, "there is a fear of greater revulsion and anger."

Gandhi condemned the killings as "inhuman butchery" and added that "all right-thinking persons will condemn the perpetrators of this evil deed."

President Zail Singh, who is a Sikh, canceled a visit to Punjab he had scheduled for today. He described the killings as "inhuman and ghastly."

Chief Julius F. Ribeiro of the Punjab police told reporters: "We are on the hunt, but we haven't made any arrests. We have sealed the border. The killers will not be spared."

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