India And Pakistan Peace Talks

Wednesday, February 21st 2007, 5:43 am
By: News On 6

NEW DELHI (AP) _ The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan vowed Wednesday to work together to fight terrorism, days after a pair of bombs went off on a Pakistan-bound train, setting off a fire that killed 68 people.

The two men, who met Wednesday for long-scheduled peace talks and to witness the signing of an agreement to reduce the threat of accidentally triggering a nuclear war, said their peace process would move forward.

``There are no words strong enough to condemn this act of heinous crime,'' Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri told reporters. ``It has underlined the need for cooperation.''

Whoever set off the bombs ``will be brought to justice,'' Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, however, ruled out the possibility of a joint investigation. ``As per the law of land, the investigation has to be carried on by India,'' Mukherjee said.

Meanwhile, investigators searched Wednesday for two men who were allowed to jump off the train shortly before it erupted into flames, police said. Police released sketches of the two suspects on Tuesday.

``Acting on clues, we have sent police teams to different towns to nab the suspects,'' Bharti Arora, a senior Haryana state railway police official, said Wednesday.

The suspects, whose identities were not known, boarded the train when it left New Delhi on Sunday but quickly began arguing with the conductor, insisting they were on the wrong train. They were allowed to jump from the train as it slowed down about 15 minutes before two crude bombs detonated, setting off the fires, police said.

The fire destroyed two coaches on the Samjhauta Express, one of the most visible symbols of the India-Pakistan peace process, about an hour after the train left New Delhi. Most of the victims were Pakistani.

The train goes to the border town of Atari without stopping, and the revelation that two were allowed off highlighted what most passengers already know: Security on the train and at stations is cursory, at best. Baggage is not searched or scanned, identities are seldom checked and there is often little security presence, though stations have been swarmed by police since the bombing.

The Indian rail system _ one of the largest in the world, with 11,000 trains a day serving 80 million people _ is simply too big to protect fully, many experts believe.

``Providing security for India's vast railway network would be close to impossible,'' said Ajit Doval, former director of India's Intelligence Bureau, which oversees internal security. ``There are so many thousand railway stations and hundreds of trains, it would be impracticable to ensure security at each and every one.''

In another sign of lax security, 13 passengers made it to the Pakistani side of Atari without passports, said Sharad Kumar, a senior police official. The train continued its run to the border after the two damaged coaches were pushed off to a siding.

Tickets for the train are not supposed to be issued without passengers showing passports. The two officials who issued the tickets have been suspended, Kumar said.

Authorities say two suitcases packed with crude unexploded bombs and bottles of gasoline were found in undamaged train cars.

As on most Indian trains, the windows of many cars are barred for security reasons, sealing in many victims. Witnesses said some victims remained trapped in the flaming carriages for up to 30 minutes, struggling futilely to escape.

So far, only 17 of the 68 bodies have been identified _ 13 Pakistanis and four Indians, Arora said.

The India-Pakistan train link was suspended after a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that India blamed on Pakistan and which nearly led to a war between the two countries. But relations between the neighbors have improved, and the train service restarted in 2004.

Their enmity focuses on Kashmir, a largely Muslim Himalayan region divided between them but claimed by both.