Strike by separatist groups shuts down Indian-ruled Kashmir as PM visits

SRINAGAR— Shops, businesses and schools were closed in Indian-controlled Kashmir after separatist groups called for a strike to protest a visit by the Indian prime minister to the disputed Himalayan region.

Large numbers of police and paramilitary forces were deployed in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city,a day after a daring rebel attack in which eight army soldiers were killed and 13 others were wounded.
Police closed off several main roads in Srinagar. Paramilitary soldiers with automatic weapons swarmed a convention centre where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to meet local officials later to review the progress of development projects in the state.

The Himalayan territory of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed entirely by both. More than a dozen rebel groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir have been fighting since 1989 for its independence or merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Islamic militants and sending them into Indian-held Kashmir to attack government forces and other targets — a charge Islamabad denies.

India and Pakistan have fought two of three wars over control of Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Late Monday, in a message to local news agencies, Kashmir’s biggest rebel group, Hizb-ul Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities have directed residents of Srinagar’s old quarters to stay indoors, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Meanwhile, the Indian army said Pakistani troops fired intermittently at Indian soldiers from across a cease-fire line in Kashmir on Tuesday.

“It was unprovoked firing and a violation of the 2003 cease-fire agreement,” said Lt. Col. Rajesh Kalia, an army spokesman.

Indian soldiers returned the fire. There were no casualties, Kalia said.

The firing took place in Poonch sector, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) southwest of Srinagar, he said. There was no immediate comment from Pakistan.

The longtime rivals signed a cease-fire accord in 2003 that has mostly held. Each side occasionally accuses the other of violating it by firing mortars or guns across the “Line of Control” dividing Kashmir between them.

On Wednesday, Singh was expected to inaugurate part of an ambitious rail line that connects southern and northern Kashmir.

However, separatist groups say the Kashmir dispute cannot be resolved by economic grants and developing rail services.