SRINAGAR, India – Suspected Islamic rebels ambushed the well-guarded campaign convoy of the Kashmir tourism minister on Sunday, killing two of her guards on the eve of crucial state elections.
The attack on the motorcade of Tourism Minister Sakina Yatoo came as people prepared for voting Monday in Jammu-Kashmir state, part of the disputed province of Kashmir that is controlled by India. In addition to the two paramilitary guards who were killed, another two guards and a civilian were wounded, said Tirath Acharya, a spokesman for the Border Security Force.
Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, the state's top elected official, blamed Pakistan, India's neighbor and rival.
"It is Pakistan fighting against our elections. We can expect anything from them," Abdullah said. "We'll still have the elections, no matter what price we have to pay for it."
In separate gunbattles Sunday, six suspected rebels were killed, and two soldiers were wounded, police said.
The militants, fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Islamic Pakistan since 1989, have demanded a boycott of the elections in India's only Muslim majority state. They have killed nearly 100 political activists this year, including a government minister last week.
The Indian government hopes transparent and violence-free elections will diminish support for the Islamic insurgents. Elections in the state are staggered over four phases -- Sept. 16 and 24, Oct. 1 and 8.
Yatoo, who is also a candidate in elections that begin Monday, was traveling with dozens of soldiers and paramilitary forces near her constituency of Damhal-Hanjipora when a remote-controlled bomb exploded under one of the escort vehicles and an unknown number of guerrillas surrounded her convoy and opened fire, officials said.
Yatoo, a member of the pro-India National Conference party which governs the state, was not injured. Elections in her constituency will be held Oct. 1. Her father was a prominent local politician and was assassinated in 1990.
Hundreds of thousands of security forces were on high alert Sunday following threats of suicide attacks by the separatist guerrillas during voting.
Candidates campaigned from door to door on Sunday, many of them wearing bulletproof jackets that were distributed by authorities.
Army, paramilitary and police teams searched polling booths for booby traps and remote-controlled devices and checked vantage points which the insurgents could use for launching gun and grenade attacks during the voting, officials said.
The guerillas have triggered several remote-controlled explosions and booby traps during the 1999 parliamentary elections in the state.
Despite the security measures, authorities still expect guerrilla attacks during the voting, which is considered crucial for the future of the Himalayan province. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the 12-year insurgency.