AMRITSAR, Punjab, India: May 10, Reuter: Sikh freedom fighters taunted security forces ringing the Golden Temple in Amnitsar with intermittent gunfire on Tuesday and kept tension high after a seven hour battle with paramilitary police on Monday.
The narrow streets around the vast complex housing the Sikhs’ holiest shrine were deserted except for police keeping a close watch from sandbag bunkers.
Police fired machineguns at the temple on Monday killing five people after gunmen shot a senior paramilitary police commander in the face,
Some’800 people left the temple in the northern state of Punjab when police promised to hold fire for two hours. Apparently leaving inside only gunmen fighting for an independent Sikh homeland they call Khalistan. Police would not say what their next move would be, but one possible strategy was to prevent food getting in and starving the militants out.
A 1984 army assault on the Golden Temple against the militants preaching secession outraged Sikhs around the world, led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and laid fertile ground for separatist recruitment.
Over 10,000 people were killed in the attack.
Tension in the prosperous farming state was already high before Monday’s battle.
Police said they shot dead nine freedom fighters in a 21/2 hour battle at Gharilia village near Amritsar on Tuesday. The deaths bring the toll from violence in the state to nearly 900 so far this year compared with 1,228 in all of 1987.
Gunmen have stepped up attacks since January. On Sunday they shot 13 Hindus attending a wedding.
Monday’s battle started when a militant shot and wounded Police Commander S.S. Virk as he tried to persuade militants not to fortify a building just outside the temple.
There were no reports of casualties there on Tuesday, but troopers around the temple said the militants were firing at them occasionally. They said they did not return fire.
Punjab Police Chief K.P.S. Gill told reporters the tight security cordon around the Complex would remain. He said some 100 freedom fighters were hold up inside with some important leaders among them.
Some armed militants were visible behind specially built defensive walls at every entrance to the complex.
The temple kitchen was closed and priests who constantly sing and recite the Sikh scriptures fled along with some 800 devotees, trapped by Monday’s fighting, who emerged on Tuesday morning during the police ceasefire.
Old men, women, children were allowed to go free after being checked. But young men were held for interrogation by police who said they had thought only 150 people were inside.
A journalist trapped inside during the battle said some of the rooms in which gunmen were sheltering did not even have toilets,
The reporter, who asked not to be identified, said they had little hope of leaving those rooms or their fortified positions because police fired on sight.
“The militants were very happy and shouting Khalistan slogans when they heard (Virk) had been hurt”, he said.
But he said he had overheard one militant say they had limited supplies of ammunition.
Hundreds of police are in sandbag positions on all access roads and have taken over positions on top of buildings overlooking the Complex.
Article extracted from this publication >> May 13, 1988