Six alleged rebels and an Indian paramilitary officer were killed in two separate clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to the disputed region.
A gunfight broke out on the outskirts of southern Jammu city early Friday after police and soldiers spotted a group of gunmen in Sunjwan, a garrison town, police said.
Two fighters and a paramilitary officer were killed, and at least two soldiers and two police officers were wounded in the ensuing gun battle.
Troops were searching the area that saw an attack in 2018 that killed five soldiers and one civilian.
Dilbag Singh, director-general of police, told reporters the slain gunmen “were planning a major attack”.
Some 15km (nine miles) from Sunjwan town, Modi is scheduled to speak Sunday in his first public event in the disputed region since New Delhi stripped it of its semi-autonomous status in 2019 and divided it into two directly governed territories.
Authorities arrested thousands and imposed the world’s longest internet shutdown, seeking to forestall local opposition to the move.
The Indian government said the move to change the status of Kashmir was done to integrate the Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country in order to bring development.
The region has remained on edge since as authorities put in place a slew of new laws that critics and many residents fear could change majority-Muslim Kashmir’s demographics.
Modi’s two previous visits after Kashmir’s status was changed were to military camps to celebrate a Hindu festival with soldiers.
‘Conspiracy’ to ruin Modi visit
Singh said the armed men were a “suicide squad from Pakistan” and their infiltration was likely part of a “conspiracy to sabotage” Modi’s visit.
“But timely action by our alert forces have foiled the bid,” he said. The police chief did not offer any evidence to back up his claim.
Separately, government forces for a second day battled a group of rebels holed up in Malwah, a village northwest of the region’s main city of Srinagar, leaving four rebels dead, police said on Friday.
The firefight began on Thursday after police and soldiers raided a cluster of civilian homes in Malwah. At least four soldiers and a policeman were also wounded.
The police identified one of the dead rebels as Yousuf Kantroo and said he had been the longest surviving rebel commander in Kashmir. There was no independent confirmation of the incidents.
India and Pakistan both claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion have fought New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel’s goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels, and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Kashmir is the most militarised part of India with more than half a million soldiers and paramilitaries deployed across the region.