Srinagar, India, May 25 (EFE).- Indian police said they gunned down three suspected Pakistani militants in the disputed Kashmir region on Wednesday, hours before a court in New Delhi was to hear arguments on the quantum of sentence for a top Kashmiri rebel leader convicted in a terror-related case.
Police said the three militants were killed in a brief shootout with security forces in the Kreeri area of Baramulla district, some 50 km north of Srinagar, the main city.
A policeman was also killed in the gunfight, Kashmir Valley police chief Vijay Kumar said in a statement.
Indian police have, since the beginning of this year, intensified their offensive against militants in the Muslim-majority region that has been battling an armed rebellion since 1989 for a free state or Kashmir’s merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Police records show 62 militants died in the first four months of 2022. These include 15 foreign insurgents, mostly from Pakistan.
Some 37 militants were killed during the same period last year in what is considered one of the most militarized zones in the world.
According to the rights activists, more than half a million Indian soldiers, in addition to regional police and paramilitary forces, are deployed in Indian Kashmir to fight insurgency.
Kashmir is claimed in full by both Pakistan and India since 1947 when it got partitioned between the two countries after their independence with a ceasefire demarcation known as the Line of Control – that acts as a de facto border separating the divided region.
The shootout on Wednesday took place amid an extra deployment of security forces across the Kashmir Valley to thwart possible protests against a controversial court decision on sentencing separatist politician Yasin Malik, a former guerrilla fighter.
Malik and many other separatist leaders are lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail facing terrorism-related charges.
Many parts of the Kashmir Valley observed a spontaneous shutdown in protest against the conviction of the separatist leader.
Malik, one of the founding members of the Kashmir “independence movement,” had been charged and convicted for illegally raising funds, being a member of a terrorist organization, and criminal conspiracy and sedition against the Indian state.
The 56-year-old politician has pleaded guilty and refused to contest the charges in protest against the judicial process. He has also declined to accept a court-appointed defense lawyer.
“I am fighting for the freedom of my nation Jammu Kashmir and our peaceful movement is legitimate as per the international law,” his organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), cited him as telling the court.
“If asking for freedom is a crime then I confess to having committed this crime. I will accept its consequences too. I will strive for this cause till my last breath,” Malik pleaded before the court.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Malik heads the former militant organization JKLF, which gave up the armed rebellion in 1994 for political negotiations with the Indian government to solve the Kashmir issue.
The JKLF was the first armed rebel group in Indian-administered Kashmir. The group supports the unification of the divided Kashmir territory independent of Pakistani or Indian rule. EFE