KAHRI—SAHRI, India, March 4, Reuter: Gunmen massacred 32 people, mostly Hindus, in this Punjab village hours before Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi freed Sikh High Priests on Friday in an attempt to thwart freedom fighters in the North Indian state.

At least eight gunmen burst into the village in Hoshiarpur district just before midnight on Thursday and sprayed bullets at 500 people watching a play for the religious festival of Holi.

Police said 23 Hindus and nine Sikhs were killed and 42 people wounded. Eight seriously the gunmen stopped only when they had run out of ammunition, survivors said,

Three villagers escaped by diving into a well and clinging to pipes.

One gunman climbed onto the roof of the temple where the play was staged and rained bullets onto the fleeing audience.

It was the worst massacre this year in Punjab where Sikhs want a separate state called Khalistan (land of the pure). At least 312 people have been killed there this year compared with 1,200 in 1987 and 640 in 1986.

Hindu groups called for a general strike in Punjab on Saturday to protest against the killings. Police were put on alert in Punjab, neighboring Hindu Majority states and Delhi where previous massacres have prompted HinduSikh clashes.

The killings coincided with a government announcement that Gandhi had ordered the release of five Sikh High Priests and other Sikh prisoners to help stop support for the Khalistan campaign.

Police routinely blamed the killings on the Khalistan Commando Force which massacred 25 Hindu bus passengers at Khudda in November, 1986

Article extracted from this publication >> March 11, 1988