Government forces in Indian-administered Kashmir have killed six suspected rebels in two incidents overnight, police said, rounding off another bloody year in the disputed territory.
“Six militants, including two Pakistan nationals, have been killed in two separate encounters with the security forces in Anantnag and Kulgam districts of Kashmir,” the region’s police chief, Vijay Kumar, said on Thursday.
An Indian army soldier was also killed in the back-to-back gun battles that took place in southern Kashmir, Kumar said.
Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces for more than 30 years, demanding freedom for the region or its merger with neighbouring Pakistan, which also controls a part of the region.
Officials say at least 380 rebels, nearly 100 civilians, and more than 80 security forces personnel have been killed in the region since August 2019.
This year, the death toll was 264, compared with 321 in 2020, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
Police say with intensified military operations against the rebels, the number of local fighters has dropped to fewer than 100 for the first time in a decade.
Kumar, the police chief, told the Economic Times newspaper this week that some 70 percent of the youth who joined rebel ranks this year “were either killed or arrested”.
Most of those arrested are being held under harsh anti-terror legislation, called the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
The law allows people to be held for six months – often rolled over – without being charged and bail is virtually impossible.
One of those in custody since November is Khurram Parvez, programme coordinator for respected rights group, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).
On December 1, the UN Human Rights Office criticised the arrest and said that the UAPA “raises serious concerns relating to the right of presumption of innocence along with other due process and fair trial rights”.
The Indian government said the statement “betrays a complete lack of understanding on the part of the OHCHR of the security challenges faced by India from cross-border terrorism”.
Earlier this year, the disputed region witnessed a wave of civilian killings, with rebels seemingly targeting non-Kashmiris, including migrant workers, and members of the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.
Indian forces in the heavily militarised region – numbering an estimated 500,000 – responded with a widespread crackdown.
India has long accused Pakistan of stoking the rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only provides diplomatic and moral backing for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
The two nuclear powers have fought two of their three wars over the region and came close to another in 2016.