Indian Army Reinforcements
Sent To Gujarat As Death
Toll Nears 500


(AFP) - India sent additional troops to Gujarat state to help mop up remaining pockets of sectarian violence after days of fearsome Hindu-Muslim bloodletting left nearly 500 dead.

There were no immediate reports of any overnight unrest in the state which had witnessed India's worst communal riots in nearly a decade following the massacre on Wednesday of a trainload of 58 mostly Hindu activists.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, who has been overseeing the deployment of around 3,000 troops in four cities since Friday, said Sunday that another full brigade was being brought in to secure other parts of the state after violence spread to rural areas.

Officials in the police control room in Gujarat's commercial capital Ahmedabad said 427 people had been killed across the state since the train massacre, 225 of them in Ahmedabad alone.

Of the total, 73 were killed by police, who were given shoot-on-sight orders following the imposition of curfews in the worst-hit areas from Thursday.

Curfews were still in place in some quarters of Ahmedabad, but the situation was slowly edging back to normal with vehicles and residents out on streets still littered with burned out cars, stones, shattered glass and other reminders of the previous days' carnage.

"Most parts of Gujarat are now very quiet," one control room official said.

In an appeal for calm broadcast on state-run television Saturday, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the violence was a "disgrace to the nation" which had tarnished India's image in the world.

Home Minister L.K. Advani arrived in Ahmedabad on Sunday to tour some of the worst-affected areas.

"All the essential help that the federal government needs to give, will be given to the state government to ensure the situation improves," Advani told reporters in a brief statement to reporters after his arrival.

Advani is also likely to visit Godhra, the scene of the train massacre on Wednesday, which triggered riots across the state.

The army had been called out in Gujarat after the state authorities were pilloried in the national press for failing to take swift and sufficient preventative measures to curb the violence after the initial train massacre.

Many Muslim residents -- the main victims of the mob riots -- said the police had simply stood by or in some cases even encouraged the rioters as they went on the rampage, burning entire families alive in their homes.

The violence may have waned, but the hostility and resentment of those who suffered made for an uneasy calm.

"I will never forget or forgive. No one who goes through such an experience would forgive," said Muslim retailer Bismullah Shamshudin, who had seen five of his neighbours hacked to death.

"The army cannot mend broken relationships ... the army can only fire shots to control a situation," Fernandes acknowledged.

Despite isolated incidents in other communally sensitive parts of India, the violence was largely restricted to Gujarat.

However, the sense of national crisis was palpable and Vajpayee's government remained under intense pressure to prevent any further communal outbreak.

The Hindus killed on the train on Wednesday had been returning from the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, where thousands have been gathering in defiance of court orders to build a temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque razed in December 1992 by Hindu zealots.

The simmering religious dispute has long threatened to boil over into sectarian violence and the Hindu activists in Ayodhya are threatening to start their temple construction on March 15, even it means a confrontation with the security forces.

Vajpayee has held a series of meeting with the leaders of right-wing Hindu organisations in recent days, in a desperate attempt to persuade them to drop, or at least postpone their plans in the interests of communal harmony.

The radical Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP - World Hindu Council), which is spearheading the temple construction campaign, has indicated it might consider some sort of delay, but a face-saving compromise will prove difficult to broker.

Muslim leaders met Vajpayee on Saturday and urged him to to ban the VHP and dismiss the Gujarat state government.
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