CHANDIGARH, INDIA, Reuter: Indian Security forces started a major hunt on Saturday for Sikh militants waging a campaign for an independent homeland in the northern state of Punjab, security sources said.

The sweep through two Punjab districts bordering Pakistan began with paramilitary troops searching 17 villages in districts Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was due to visit on September 21, they added.

More than 20 people were detained for questioning but no arms were found, the sources said.

The sources said the search would intensify over the next few days as more reinforcements arrived from New Delhi.

The sources said about 30 companies of paramilitary troopers, numbering up to 3,000 men, were being drafted in to search the border districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur which have a combined population of about one million people.

The sources said the sweep through the district would take some time, but declined to say how long .In all of 1987, the death toll in the campaign for what the militants call Khalistan (land of the pure) was 1,230.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 9, 1988