07 Dec 2006 Source: Reuters
SRINAGAR, India, Dec 7 (Reuters) – The death toll from 17 years of separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir stands at more than 41,000 people, Indian authorities said on Thursday, but separatists and human rights groups said the figure was higher.
According to police records 16,231 civilians, 4,984 members of Indian security forces and 19,966 militants have died since the insurgency began in 1989 in disputed Kashmir, the root of more than a half century of animosity between India and Pakistan.
A senior police officer, who did not want to be identified said the toll of 41,181 had been tallied up to Oct. 31.
"The figure does not include those who died on inaccessible snow-clad mountains while crossing over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or while returning after receiving arms training," he told Reuters.
The figure also does not include missing people, but in 2004 then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Syed said more than 3,700 people had disappeared as a result of the conflict.
India has consistently accused Pakistan of training, arming and sending separatist militants into Kashmir.
A human rights group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS), estimates that more than 50,000 people have died and more than 10,000 gone missing since the armed rebellion began against Indian rule.
"These figures are based on daily newspaper reports — we completely disagree with the government figures," said Khuram Parvez, the coordinator of JKCCS.
"We have already started a door-to-door survey in Kashmir to compile the list of total deaths. Thousands of Kashmiris remain unaccounted for," Parvez added.
Kashmir's leading separatist group, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, says more than 100,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence.
"When one of our study groups started work to compile the death toll, they were jailed," said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardline separatist leader and former chairman of the Hurriyat.
"Kashmir's death toll will remain a big unanswered question as long as India does not allow our workers, human rights groups to work freely."
International human rights groups have accused the Indian army of systematic abuses in Kashmir over the years, but the military says it punishes anyone found guilty of abuse.
Officials say violence involving Indian security forces and separatist militants has been falling since India and Pakistan launched a peace process in 2004.
But an average of between four and six people a day are still being killed in regular gun battles and occasional bomb blasts across the mountainous region.