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Pakistan Shuts More Militants' Offices

January 16, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Police closed the offices of another militant group Tuesday ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that is aimed at defusing the threat of war between Pakistan and India. But a defiant President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he still backs Kashmir's struggle against "Indian occupation."

Musharraf told the newly formed National Kashmir Committee that he hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff with India, but he repeated Pakistan's "resolve and will" to defend itself.

Pakistani police kept up their sweep of suspected Islamic extremists, closing three offices of the Harkat Moujahedeen, a group India accuses of staging attacks in the disputed Kashmir region.

More than 70 suspected militants were detained Tuesday, the fourth day of a crackdown ordered by Musharraf, bringing total arrests to more than 1,600 and the number of offices closed to nearly 500, authorities said.

However, India has said Pakistan must do more to prevent terror attacks against it.

Powell was to arrive in Pakistan today before continuing on to Kabul, the Afghan capital, Thursday. He also plans to travel to New Delhi, India's capital, for more talks on the Indian-Pakistani confrontation that last month led the nuclear-armed neighbors to mass hundreds of thousands of troops on their border.

Powell will also make a brief trip to Nepal, the kingdom's state radio said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters before a refueling stop in Ireland, Powell said a conciliatory speech by Musharraf showed that "the rush toward conflict has slowed quite a bit."

In efforts to avoid war, Powell said, "there has been an excessive focus on achieving a pullback of the large number of troops that the two sides have arrayed against each other in recent weeks."

"It's more important to make sure that the political and diplomatic situation stabilizes," he said. "If that is stabilized, then the armies can move back in due course."

So far, Musharraf has banned five organizations, two of which India blames for a deadly attack on its Parliament. On Tuesday, Islamabad ordered Pakistani banks to freeze the accounts of the five groups, a move apparently timed to Powell's arrival.

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