SRINAGAR: Indian for­ces killed two people in held Kashmir on Wed­nesday, one of them suspected of gunning down a bank manager this month, police said, part of a stepped-up operation that has triggered an exodus from the Muslim-majority region.

“Indian troops killed two [alleged] militants this morning in a gun battle; one of them, Jan Mohammad Lone, was involved in the killing of a bank manager,” said Vijay Kumar, the police chief of occupied Kashmir.

Fighters entered a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank in Kulgam town this month and killed the manager, who came from the desert state of Rajasthan, and had only been posted to the branch four days earlier.

A little-known group, known as the Kashmir Freedom Fighters, claimed responsibility for the attack, warning outsiders not to settle in the India-held valley.

At least 16 people — both Hindu and Muslims — have been killed in targeted attacks in occupied Kashmir this year.

Kumar, the police chief, said Indian troops were tracking fighters and had killed eight involved in killings in recent weeks. At least 104 fighters have been killed in Kashmir this year, double the toll in the same period last year, he added.

Rattled by the killings, scores of Hindu families, including some from the Kashmiri Pandit community, have been fleeing the held valley in recent days.

The occupied region’s top government official, Lieut­enant Governor Manoj Sinha, has tried to assure Kashmiri Pandits of measures for their security.

As part of the crackdown, the government ordered 300 schools affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami to shut on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2022

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