SRINAGAR: Three soldiers were killed in India-held Kashmir during a clash with fighters as the disputed region marked the fourth anniversary of New Delhi imposing direct rule.

An army patrol looking for armed Kashmiris in the forests of Halan in the southern valley clashed with fighters late on Friday night, leaving the trio wounded in the exchange of fire, police said on Saturday.

“The three personnel sustained injuries and later succumbed,” police posted on Twitter.

A search operation was under way to track the Kashmiri fighters.

Clashes between Kashmiris and government forces have dropped significantly since August 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ended the restive Muslim-majority region’s limited autonomy.

Local leaders picked up as demo against end of region’s limited autonomy disallowed

In contrast to the government’s expectation that the move would ensure peace and development in the embattled region, nearly 900 people, including 144 members of Indian security forces, have died over the past four years.

At least 63 people, including nine civilians, 16 government personnel and 38 Kashmiri fighters, have been killed since the beginning of the year.

Young men continue to join Kashmiri groups that have been demanding and fighting for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.

India’s top court is currently weighing whether Modi’s government acted lawfully in suspending occupied Kashmir’s constitutionally guaranteed semi-autonomy.

The disputed region has witnessed a drastic curtailment of civil liberties since, with restrictions on protests and journalists complaining of official harassment. Several leaders of the local Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were detained overnight after authorities denied them permission to stage a protest against Saturday’s anniversary of the 2019 decision.

“All this is being done to hoodwink the public opinion in the country,” PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti posted on Twitter alongside footage of a party official being detained by police.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops were deployed on Saturday around commercial districts in Srinagar to keep order during the anniversary.

City shops are often closed in Srinagar during protests as a gesture of solidarity. But two members of commercial associations representing the city’s shopkeepers, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP that retailers had been verbally instructed by the police to remain open through the day.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2023

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