Thursday, June 27, 2013

Manmohan opens India’s longest railway tunnel in Kashmir

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AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Thursday 27 June 2013
Last Update 27 June 2013 1:26 am
BANIHAL, India: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday opened the country’s longest railway tunnel during a rare visit to troubled Indian Kashmir, which has been marred by one of the deadliest militant attacks on soldiers in years.
Singh inaugurated a stretch of line that runs through the 11-kilometer (6.8 mile) long tunnel, part of an ambitious multi-year railway project in the region, as he wrapped up his first visit to the region in three years.
“It took seven years to complete,” Singh said of this section of the project, during a speech in the town of Banihal, some 110 kilometers from the main city of Sriningar.
It is the first time the premier has visited the Indian-controlled part of the divided Himalayan territory — which has been the scene of two wars with Pakistan — since June 2010 and comes less than a year before India goes to the polls.
During Singh’s visit, Pakistani troops fired across the borders twice in an hour, an Indian army spokesman said, dubbing it a breach of a cease-fire pact between the estranged neighbors.
“This morning Pakistani troops fired at out positions in the Poonch sector. Our side retaliated with small arms fire,” Col. Rajesh Kalia told AFP. He said troops also engaged up to three heavily-armed cross-border militants in a firefight in Indian Kashmir’s frontier Rajouri district.
Also yesterday, suspected Muslim militants shot dead a man in the Kashmiri town of Sopore, police said.
On of the eve of premier Singh’s trip Monday, militants ambushed a convoy of troops on the outskirts of Srinagar, killing eight soldiers and wounding 13 others. It was the deadliest such attack since July 2008 when a land mine killed nine soldiers on a bus, also on the outskirts of Srinagar.
The tunnel and railway stretch have been added to a train line running through the valley, part of a 20-billion-rupee ($ 470-million dollar) project that will eventually link Kashmir to the rest of India’s vast railway network.
Sections of the track have been drilled through the Himalayan mountains, and Singh said it was a “national dream” to link Kashmir with the network by 2018.
Singh faced protests when he arrived in Kashmir on Tuesday after the region’s three main separatist groups called a strike against his visit. Shops and other businesses, along with schools, banks and offices were closed throughout Srinagar and security forces were deployed in strength.

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