An explosion and two separate gunfights killed at least 15 people and injured more than 35 others in Indian Kashmir on Sunday, authorities said, marking the single deadliest day of violence in the Himalayan region in months.
The victims included seven civilians. They died after an explosive went off near the scene of an armed clash, which had left three suspected insurgents dead earlier in the day in Kulgam, a southern district of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, the region’s police chief said.
“The casualties could have been avoided had civilians not ventured into the encounter site soon after troops withdrew,” Police Director-General Dilbagh Singh told BenarNews.
“I am pained by the loss of lives near the gunfight scene. The civilians went to the site despite repeated advisories’ issued by the police not to go to the place before the area was completely sanitized,” Singh said, referring to operation to sweep the area for unexploded ordnance.
According to a senior police officer, S.P. Pani, police were clearing the area when “someone from the crowd fiddled with an exploded explosive substance, resulting in the tragic incident,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Officials said three Indian soldiers and two suspected militants were killed in a second firefight elsewhere in Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. That shootout took place in Rajouri district, situated along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the Indian from the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir.
Sunday’s clashes between security forces and militants came amid a string of recent deadly incidents and less than two weeks after Manan Bashir Wani, a former doctorate student turned separatist militant commander, was killed along with his aide during a shootout with security forces in north Kashmir.
The day was the deadliest one in Indian Kashmir since 18 people – 11 suspected militants, three soldiers and four civilians were killed on April 1, 2018 in violence associated with the separatist insurgency and anti-India protests.
Indian Kashmir has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
‘In cold blood’
On Sunday, authorities imposed a curfew in Kulgam district after at least 35 stone-throwing anti-India protesters were injured in clashes with the security forces who responded with tear gas.
Internet and mobile phone services were suspended in the district in an effort to maintain order, police said.
Separatist leaders, under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), called for a shutdown of shops and businesses on Monday to protest the killings in Kulgam district.
“JRL will hold a protest in Srinagar against the Kulgam clashes in which seven civilians and three armed youth were killed,” Mirwaiz Farooq, a separatist leader said in a message posted on Twitter.
According to a local man who said he had witnessed the deaths of the seven civilians in Kulgam, they were not killed by an explosion as claimed by the police.
“The security forces fired at the peaceful demonstrators leading to the killing of civilians and injuries to dozens,” Farooq Ahmad told BenarNews.
“The government forces are fully responsible for the deaths in cold blood and must be punished,” according to Ahmad, who said he took part in the protest.
Meanwhile, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh was due to visit Jammu and Kashmir state on Tuesday to review the security situation in the region, officials in New Delhi said.
“Singh will chair a high-level meeting with Governor Satya Pal Malik, top civil and security officials, to assess the prevailing security situation in the state,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Home ministry officials as saying.