//Four soldiers, two militants killed in J&K

Four soldiers, two militants killed in J&K

11/26/2006

Source ::: Agencies

A Kashmiri man with a weapon walks during a surrender ceremony organised by the Indian army in Baramulla, 55km north of Srinagar, yesterday. The Indian army organised the media event where 20 Kashmiri men laid down their arms and ammunition. The men who laid down their arms were militants belonging to different groups operating in the troubled Kashmir region, the Indian army said.

SRINAGAR • Four Indian soldiers and two suspected Islamist militants were killed yesterday in a fierce gunbattle in restive Kashmir, an army spokesman said.

The exchange of fire between the militants and Indian troops broke out late on Friday and was still continuing in the Shopian area, 55km south of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, he said.

“On a tip off, (the) army laid siege to a hideout and asked militants to surrender, the militants opened fire which resulted in an encounter,” Lieutenant-Colonel A K Mathur said.

A separatist revolt against Indian rule has killed more than 45,000 people since 1989 in Kashmir.

But authorities say violence involving militants and Indian security forces has declined in the Himalayan region since India and Pakistan started a peace process in 2004.

In a separate incident, the Indian army said 20 suspected militants had surrendered to authorities in Kashmir’s northern Baramulla district yesterday.

An army statement said the separatist guerrillas — which India accuses militant groups and authorities in Pakistan of supporting — were disillusioned as a result of discrimination against them as well as being fed false propaganda.

“Today all these young men are returning home with a bitter taste or deceit at the hands of Pakistan army,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, shops and businesses in Srinagar and many parts of Kashmir valley remained closed yesterday in protest against a government’s decision to lease land to non-Kashmiris in the famous ski resort of Gulmarg for setting up hotels.

Indian legislation bars non-residents from buying land in Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in predominately Hindu India. But outsiders can lease land to set up industries in the scenic region.

The strike, called by a hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and supported by militant groups, closed most of the schools and colleges in Srinagar, witnesses said.

“India wants to settle outsiders here so that Muslims are converted into minorities and their land is occupied,” a statement by Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba said.

Both Islamabad and New Delhi claim Kashmir in full and have fought two wars over it.

India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to hold informal talks with his Pakistani counterpart tomorrow in the first meeting between the two foreign ministers in more than a year.

Tomorrow’s talks between Mukherjee and Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri would come almost two weeks after top diplomats of the neighbours held their first talks in nearly a year and finalised a plan to set up a joint panel to tackle terrorism and curb tensions.

Meanwhile, a group formed to recommend steps to create a "peaceful atmosphere" in Jammu and Kashmir has agreed on a set of recommendations to be forwarded to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for discussion at the next Round Table Conference (RTC).

Group chairman Mohammad Hamid Ansari said yesterday: "All members (of the group) have agreed on the recommendations that will be sent to the prime minister."

But he declined to give any details of the proposals "before they are discussed at the next RTC". The group is among five announced by the prime minister in May to suggest internal confidence building measures on Kashmir.

It began deliberations on Friday here for a second meeting when discussions were held among political parties. The National Conference abstained charging "there is no zero tolerance towards human rights abuses in Kashmir as promised by the prime minister".

The group has suggested measures to improve the condition of people affected by militancy, schemes for the rehabilitation of orphans and widows, relaxation of conditions for people who have given up militancy, effective rehabilitation including employment for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, preservation and protection of cultural heritage of the state and the return of Kashmiri youths who went to Pakistan for training.