By Amin Masoodi
Nearly 50 people have been injured over the past five days in clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, where four civilians and two suspected militants were allegedly killed by security forces last weekend, police said.
Meanwhile, protesters headed by senior separatist leaders took to the streets of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s largest city, on Friday, demanding an end to civilian killings and shifting of inmates allegedly associated with rebel groups outside the state.
Shops and schools were shuttered and internet connectivity snapped in parts of the Himalayan territory, where a separatist insurgency has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
“Unidentified miscreants set fire to a government office in Shopian late Wednesday evening after more than 10 protesters were injured in clashes with security personnel earlier that day,” a police official told BenarNews, explaining how the latest violence of cycle began.
Clashes also occurred in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Thursday, prompting forces to use teargas shells to disperse protesters who were allegedly trying to prevent an operation to hunt down suspected militants hiding in the area, said the official who did not wish to be named.
“But we have the situation under control. We have barred internet in sensitive areas, including Shopian, since Monday to prevent protesters from organizing gatherings,” he added.
“Except a few sensitive areas of south Kashmir, the situation remained largely peaceful,” S.P Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, told BenarNews.
“Police exercised restraint in dealing with protesters in Srinagar. Restrictions were imposed to maintain law and order in some south Kashmir areas and there was routine security personnel deployment in major towns,” he added.
The Sunday evening shooting occurred when suspected militants traveling in two private vehicles opened fire at an Army mobile checkpoint on the outskirts of Shopian, about 55 km (34 miles) south of Srinagar, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, a military spokesman who is based there.
The soldiers retaliated and killed two suspected members of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the gunfight that ensued, Army officials said, adding that four civilians in one of the two vehicles also died.
The Indian government’s special peace representative in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday demanded an end to killings of civilians and urged government forces to refrain from using excessive force.
“Civilian killings must end for peace to gather momentum in the region. The security forces must show restraint from using disproportionate force while discharging their duty,” government representative Dineshwar Sharma was quoted as saying in the Hindustan Times.
Anger also is simmering over a recent government decision to shift imprisoned suspected militants and anti-India protesters to prisons outside the state, according to officials.
As many as 42 such prisoners have been shifted to jails outside the state since an alleged LeT commander escaped from police custody during an attack outside a hospital in Srinagar last month.
India and Pakistan have fought three full-blown wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the two sides by a de facto border known as the Line of Control.
Separatist leaders earlier this week filed a petition in court demanding an inquiry into why prisoners accused of militancy or being anti-India were being shifted to jails outside of the state.
“Some prison inmates who are serving life-terms have been shifted to the jails hundreds of miles from their homes. It is a clear violation of human rights guaranteed by the judicial pronouncements held by the country’s top court,” the petition said.
“The prisoners are being subjected to harassment and mental torture with an evil motive,” it added.