The Indian government has for the first time offered amnesty to hundreds of Kashmiris who had crossed over to the Pakistani part of Kashmir and are now willing to surrender and return home.
Thousands of Kashmiris have slipped into Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training since an anti-India insurgency broke out twenty years ago.
SRINAGAR, India, Feb 10 (Reuters) – India’s border guards said on Wednesday one of their soldiers had shot dead an innocent boy in Kashmir last week, in a rare confession by troops after anti-India protests over the death roiled the disputed region.
The admission could ease a recent spike in tensions in Kashmir, where hundreds of people have been injured in pitched street battles between government forces and rock-pelting Muslim crowds protesting the killing of the boy.
Those protests were threatening to morph into huge demonstrations against Indian rule in the dispute region, and embarrass New Delhi as it tries to reach out to moderate separatists to end a two-decade-long violent insurgency.
"We have conducted an internal inquiry and prima facie evidence points to a constable," director general of India’s Border Security Force, P. P. S. Sidhu, told a news conference.
"Exemplary punishment will be given to the person so that such crimes are not repeated in the future," Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, later told reporters.
In the past, government forces in Kashmir have been accused of killing civilians during protests and in staged gun battles by passing them off as separatist militants, charges security forces have mostly denied.
Last year a judicial probe into the alleged rape and murder of two women, which also triggered massive protests across Kashmir, pointed to the involvement of police. But so far no police official has been identified or punished for the crime.
Indian troops have rarely accepted their involvement in civilian deaths which have almost always sparked protests.
Authorities did not give the circumstances under which the boy was shot last week. Locals and human rights activists claim he was the sixth civilian killed by police or soldiers in over a month. The charge has not been proved.
Kashmir is at the heart of the rivalry between India and Pakistan since they won independence from Britain in 1947. The two nations have fought wars over the Himalayan region, with India accusing Pakistan of abetting the Kashmir insurgency which has killed tens of thousands of people.
The admission over the boy’s death comes at a time when India and Pakistan are trying to improve their relations strained after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. (Additional reporting by Ashok Pahalwan; Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Jerry Norton)
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – At least 17 Indian soldiers were killed when an avalanche smashed into a military training camp near the country’s disputed border with Pakistan on Monday, security officials said.
The avalanche hit the Indian army’s High Altitude Warfare School in northwest Kashmir, a rugged area at an altitude of 2,730 meters (9,000 feet) near a military line that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.
Army spokesman Col. Vineet Sood said more than 80 soldiers had been rescued. "We have called off search and rescue operations as no one is missing or trapped now," he said.
The avalanche occurred in the Khilanmarg area near Gulmarg, a ski resort visited by thousands of people, including some foreigners, every winter.
Officials said there was little chance of any tourist having been trapped as the avalanche was triggered at an altitude higher than the popular skiing slopes.
Police said 17 soldiers were in a critical condition.
The government weather forecaster said snow and sleet would continue to hit the Kashmir mountains for the next two days. They have issued a fresh avalanche warning in Kashmir where avalanches occur frequently.
Thousands of Indian soldiers are deployed along the military line, or Line of Control (LoC), to guard a disputed border and prevent militant incursions into the Indian side from Pakistani Kashmir.
Troops are fighting a 20-year-old anti-India insurgency in Kashmir where tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1989.
Heavy snow blocked Kashmir’s main highway, the only road link to the rest of the country, for the third day on Monday.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Jeremy Laurence)
Killing of civilians, six in the past month blamed on government forces, has triggered massive protest demonstrations since last week in Kashmir, the region at the heart of enmity between India and Pakistan.
And the anger has evolved into wider anti-India protests, nearly similar to huge street protests seen in 2008 that embarrassed New Delhi. After a period of relative calm, rebel violence has increased.
SRINAGAR, India, Feb 4 (Reuters) – Authorities imposed a curfew in Kashmir’s main city on Thursday to thwart anti-India protests that have grown in the past week, pointing to possible increasing trouble in the region after a period of relative calm.
If the government does not find a way to check the protests, they could hurt efforts to improve relations with Pakistan and weaken the ruling coalition’s efforts to reach out to moderate separatists.
But it also must take care not to undermine its own efforts reach out to moderate separatists to secure peace in the region.
"The situation is reflective of the deep rooted resentment and discontent (against India), and unfortunately New Delhi has not been making any serious and bold attempts in addressing it," said Noor Ahmad Baba, dean of social sciences at Kashmir University.
"If not seriously addressed, the situation may get seriously out of hand today, tomorrow or sometime in the immediate future."
The killing of a teenager by police earlier this week triggered demonstrations that have evolved into wider anti-India protests, similar to huge street protests seen in 2008 that embarrassed New Delhi.
The teenager’s death was the fifth in the past month that locals have blamed on government forces.
"New Delhi is pushing the people towards violence and Kashmir has been turned into a police state," senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in a statement.
At least 400 people have been injured in pitched street battles between government forces and large groups of rock-pelting Muslim protesters over the past three days.
On Thursday, thousands of police and soldiers in riot gear patrolled deserted streets, erected barricades and warned residents to stay indoors in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.
"We have imposed restrictions in the whole of the city to protect the life and property of the people," said Mehraj Ahmad Kakroo, a senior government official.
Although Kashmir seldom goes more than a few days without incident, the protests come after a period of relative calm during which the region voted in a new government, and amid speculation New Delhi could be holding secret peace talks with Farooq and other Kashmiri separatist leaders.
The rise in tension in Kashmir, which India and Pakistan claim in full but rule in part, comes at a sensitive time, coinciding with a spike in border skirmishes and violence by militant groups, most of them Pakistan-based.
In fresh violence in the past 24 hours, Indian soldiers shot dead three militants, including two senior members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, in fierce gun battles, police said.
Officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since simmering discontent against Indian rule broke out in 1989. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton)
It has come as a surprise to many that Ghulam Mohammad Mir, often described as Kashmir’s first counter-insurgent, has been honoured with the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards.
Mir alias Momma Kana, 60, who was awarded for public service, has been accused of involvement in cases of extortion and attempted murder.
One of the world’s longest-running separatist insurgencies, one that has killed tens of thousands of people in Kashmir, completed two decades last month.
The strife-torn region witnessed a period of relative calm, but a recent spate of rebel attacks is a grim reminder of the tensions in Kashmir at the heart of enmity between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.
Rebel violence in Indian Kashmir has fallen to its lowest level since an insurgency began nearly two decades ago.But the central government has banned pre-paid mobile connections in the strife-torn state, leaving nearly three million subscribers disconnected over security concerns.The ban, which comes days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered fresh talks with Kashmiris, has annoyed local residents while troops deployed in the state are also distressed over getting disconnected from their families.The ban also put around 20,000 youths in danger of finding themselves without a job.Is the ban justified at a time when rebel violence is at its lowest and New Delhi is trying to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris?The ban follows reports that neither vendors nor service providers carry out thorough identity checks on buyers when issuing a connection.Until five years ago, intelligence officials resisted attempts by the central government to lift a ban on mobile phone services in the region, fearing they could aid militants in planning attacks.New Delhi allowed mobile phone services in Kashmir in 2003, eight years after the rest of India, now the world’s fastest-growing market for cellular services.But security forces say troops have eliminated many militants in Kashmir by tracking their mobile phones and tapping conversations.The government of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, said it would take up the issue of banning pre-paid connections with New Delhi to ensure that genuine users do not suffer and security is also not compromised.”It is not a positive development,” a state government spokesman said.Will the ban on pre-paid mobile phone connections in Kashmir further alienate people?
ANANTNAG, India, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to Kashmiri separatists on Wednesday, offering to resume peace talks to end a decades-old insurgency in the Himalayan region.
Singh’s offer comes at a time when New Delhi continues to drag its feet over holding talks with Pakistan, which lays claim to Kashmir, saying that it must first crack down on militants behind the November attacks in Mumbai.
"I wish to say again today that we are willing to talk to anyone who has any meaningful ideas for promoting peace and development in Kashmir," Singh told a public rally before inaugurating a railway line in south Kashmir.
Kashmir’s moderate and main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, has urged New Delhi to pull out troops, release prisoners and end human rights violations before resuming peace talks.
Dialogue between the government and the separatists broke down in 2006.
"We want to carry all sections of the people with us in resolving the political and economic problems of Jammu and Kashmir," Singh said.
The Indian leader is on a two-day trip to the Kashmir valley, the main focus of the insurgency. Most shops and businesses closed in a strike called by hardline separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to protest the visit.
The Hurriyat began a dialogue with New Delhi in 2004, the first since a full blown insurgency erupted in 1989. Officials say more than 47,000 have been killed in the past twenty years in Kashmir, where anti-India sentiment still runs deep.
"I appeal to the youth of Kashmir to join in building a new Kashmir. I understand their frustration," Singh said.
The Indian leader also again urged Pakistan, which like India claims Kashmir in full and is seen as key to resolving the dispute, to crack down on militants.
India suspended a 2004 peace process with its neighbour after the Mumbai attacks last year, which it blamed on Pakistan-based militants it said were supported by some official agencies. Islamabad denied official involvement.
(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in New Delhi; Editing by Matthias Williams and Sanjeev Miglani)