Two non-Kashmiris were shot dead by suspected militants and three alleged rebels killed by security forces, police said Wednesday, the deadliest day in the Indian-administered Kashmir valley since New Delhi revoked its autonomy.
The Himalayan region had been under a strict lockdown since August 5 amid fears of unrest after the Indian government controversially abolished its semi-autonomous status.
Ahead of the autonomy decision, the head of Kashmir’s largest militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, Riyaz Naikoo, had warned that Indians in the territory would become legitimate targets if the valley’s status were changed.
“Militants shot at two apple traders from Punjab – Charanjeet and Sanjeev,” a senior police official told AFP late Wednesday, adding that one of the men died in the incident in Shopian district.
The other trader was in a critical condition in hospital, police added.
In a separate shooting earlier Wednesday, suspected militants killed a migrant laborer in the southern Rohmo village in Pulwama district, police said.
The two men’s deaths came a day after a truck driver carrying apples was killed – also in Shopian which is the valley’s biggest apple-growing district – by suspected militants. His vehicle was set ablaze.
Authorities blocked text messaging services after the driver’s death.
New Delhi had just restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day communications blackout, although internet services remain blocked. Landlines were restored previously.
All three killed were not from Kashmir.
On Wednesday, Indian soldiers killed three Kashmiris who officials said were militants.
Early Wednesday, soldiers surrounded a residential area near Bijbehara town about 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of the main city of Srinagar after receiving reports about three alleged anti-India rebels.
“Three militants who all appear to be locals were killed in the operation in an exchange of fire, which was started based on intelligence about their presence in a house,” senior police officer Munir Khan told AFP.
Authorities repeatedly said during the lockdown that Kashmir was mostly peaceful. Since August 5, protests have broken out, several civilians have died and security forces killed several militants in gun battles.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since 1947 and has been the spark of two wars and numerous skirmishes.
An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged in the valley since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.
The rebels have demanded independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it.