India protests U.S. president's letter on Sikh rights

NEW DELHI -- India Sunday strongly protested U.S. President Bill Clinton's letter to another U.S. official about protecting Sikh rights in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said India's U.S. ambassador had been asked to express 'our concern on this matter to the U.S. authorities and convey our objections to such views.'


According to reports Sunday, Clinton referred to Sikh rights in Punjab in a letter to Gary A. Condit, a Democratic state senator from California, last December.

In a similar letter, issued Dec. 27, 1993, Clinton wrote to a Kashmiri Muslim -- a lobbyist for Pakistan -- offering to work with him to bring peace to the troubled Indian state of Kashmir.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman objected the latest reference to human rights in Punjab. 'We reject any statement that speaks of a solution and protects Sikh rights.'

The spokesman said the people of Punjab had elected local legislators, and 'the rights of all Indians including Sikhs were protected under the law, regardless of their religion.'

The Sikhs' native Punjab was wracked by militant insurgency in the 1980s, but peace returned after the 1992 local elections.


Clinton's letter to Condit, nator on Punjab 'comes in the wake of a series of negative pronouncements, from Indias point of view, by United States authorities on such issues as Kashmir, Human Rights and Punjab,' the spokesman said.

'We do not accept external prescriptions in this regard,' he said.

An earlier statement by a senior U.S. official on Kashmir kicked off a major political storm in India, with the foreign ministry registering a strong protest with Washington and demanding to know if the Clinton administration was questioning the legality of the 1947 Indian Independence Act.

Despite the recent strains in political relations, economic ties between the United States and India are expanding rapidly in response to Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's sweeping economic liberalization program.

The United States has emerged as the biggest investor in India, and a large number of U.S. multinational corporations are entering the Indian market.

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