SRINAGAR, Oct 29: Thousands of Indian troops will begin moving out of schools and hospitals in occupied Kashmir this week in a move to boost trust in the revolt-torn region after a fall in militant violence, authorities said on Monday.

Top officials, led by Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony, decided over the weekend that all forces stationed on school and hospital premises would vacate them by Nov 30. “We will start this with immediate effect,” defence spokesman Lt-Col A. K. Mathur said.

Antony, who visited Kashmir on Saturday to review security, also agreed to revise the rentals of the land and orchards in Kashmir occupied by the army, a defence statement said.

Defence experts estimate that there are between 400,000 and 500,000 troops in Kashmir with many camping in schools, hospitals, and on other private and government property.

The forces are fighting an 18-year rebellion against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region, but their presence on non-military property and what locals say is their heavy-handedness has created widespread resentment in Kashmiris.

New Delhi has been under pressure from Kashmir’s ruling coalition partner, the People’s Democratic Party, which has frequently threatened to bring down the state government if troops are not withdrawn from populated areas.

But the government has refused to cut troops immediately saying militant attacks have not completely died down.

Officials say the overall level of violence has fallen significantly since India and Pakistan began peace talks in 2004.

However, the dialogue has made slow progress in resolving the decades-old territorial dispute over Kashmir, where officials say more than 42,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in 1989. Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000 dead or missing.

“The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is fast improving. But as along as militancy exists in the state and militants get support from across the border, problems will continue,” the Greater Kashmir newspaper quoted Antony as saying.—Reuters

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