Violence in Indian Kashmir lowest in 2 decades

29 12 2008
Source: DAWN Associated press

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Militant activity in the disputed region of Kashmir has fallen to its lowest levels since an anti-India rebellion began nearly two decades ago, police said Friday.

The number of militant attacks in 2008 fell 40 percent to 709 — the first time the number of attacks dropped below 1,000 — said Kuldeep Khoda, senior police official of Jammu-Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.

In 2007, roughly 1,100 militant incidents were recorded in Indian Kashmir, he said.

Civilian casualties also fell to less than 100 for the first time since 1989 when militants began fighting Indian rule, Khoda said in a statement.

More than 68,000 people have died in the two decades violence, most of them civilians.

Police said there are 850 militants fighting in the region, including followers of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the deadly Mumbai attacks last month. The largest militant group in the region is Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, Khoda said.

Khoda said government forces this year killed about “350 militants including some top ranking rebel commanders in anti-militancy operations across the state.”

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Meanwhile on Friday, government forces clashed with hundreds of rock-throwing protesters after the main mosque in Srinagar, the region’s biggest city, opened for Friday prayers after seven weeks.

The mosque had been closed as Indian troops enforced strict restrictions following separatists’ demands for a protest and boycott of state elections, the last phase of which was completed on Wednesday.

At least 10 protesters were injured in the Friday clashes, said a police officer on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

“India calls it a democracy and conducts elections under curfews, arrests and military crackdown,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a key separatist leader, told worshippers at the Jamia Masjid. “Let India know that domination is never victory and our fight for freedom will continue.”