5 Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir gunbattle with militants
Srinagar, India, Oct 11 (EFE).- Five Indian soldiers were killed Monday in a shootout with suspected militants in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that is on edge after a string of recent targeted civilians killings.
Defense spokesperson Lt.Col. Devendra Anand told EFE that the shootout took place in a village, near the de facto border with Pakistan, in Poonch district, some 140 km (85 miles) south of Srinagar, the largest city in the region.
Anand said five soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer, suffered critical injuries in the gunbattle with militants.
“They were evacuated to a nearby medical facility, but succumbed to injuries,” the army spokesperson said.
He said the shootout that began after the Army launched a cordon and search operation in the Dera Ki Gali village was still on.
Police sources told EFE that security forces acted on a tip-off about a group of militants who had sneaked into the Indian side from across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The gunbattle resulted in the highest casualties for the Indian Army this year.
In a separate statement, police claimed to have gunned down two militants in two separate shootouts in the north and the south of the Kashmir Valley.
Police said one of the militants was involved in recent civilian killings.
The encounters follow a spate of targeted civilian killing, including those from the minority Hindu and Sikh communities, something that has pushed the Kashmir Valley on the edge.
A police officer in Srinagar told EFE that the security forces have launched a crackdown and detained nearly 600 alleged “sympathizers of militants.”
The officer said those detained are members of religious groups and “overground workers” of militant organizations that are involved in anti-India activities in the troubled region.
“It (the crackdown) is part of the police investigation into the civilian killings,” the officer said on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give the details of the probe.
Police blamed Islamist militants fighting against Indian rule for seven targeted killings in Kashmir last week.
Those shot dead included two teachers, a male Hindu and a female Sikh, on Thursday.
Two days earlier, unknown assailants fatally shot three civilians, including a prominent chemist from the Hindu community, a non-local street food vendor from the eastern state of Bihar, and a taxi driver.
Police said militants gunned down a total of 28 civilians, including Muslims, in Kashmir Valley this year.
The civilian killings have sparked security fears among minority communities in the only Muslim majority region in India.
Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh said the civilian killings were part of a conspiracy to “defame Muslims of Kashmir.”
“Killing innocent civilians is a move to attack and damage the age-old tradition of communal harmony and brotherhood in Kashmir,” the police chief told reporters last week.