SRINAGAR: Indian forces in occupied Kashmir killed two fighters on Wednesday, one of them suspected of gunning down a bank manager this month, police said, part of a stepped-up military effort that has triggered an exodus from the disputed Muslim-majority region.
India has been fighting a freedom movement in Kashmir since the late 1980s. Pakistan also claims the region over which the nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars.
“Indian troops killed two militants this morning in a gun battle, one of them, Jan Mohammad Lone, was involved in the killing of a bank manager,” said Vijay Kumar, the police chief of Kashmir.
Fighters entered a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank in Kulgam town this month and killed the manager, who came from the desert state of Rajasthan, and had only been posted to the branch four days earlier.
A little-known fighter group called the Kashmir Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility for the attack, warning outsiders not to settle in the Kashmir Valley.
At least 16 people — both Hindu and Muslims — have been killed in targeted attacks in Kashmir this year.
Kumar said troops were tracking fighters and had killed eight involved in killings in recent weeks.
At least 104 fighters have been killed in Kashmir this year, double the toll in the same period last year, he said.
India and Pakistan rule different parts of the divided Himalayan region.
India accuses Pakistan of backing the freedom movement but Pakistan denies, saying it only offers political support to fellow Muslims who Islamabad says are being suppressed by New Delhi’s security forces.
Rattled by the killings, scores of Hindu families, including some from the minority Kashmiri Pandit community, have been fleeing Kashmir in recent days.
The region’s top government official, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, has tried to assure Kashmiri Pandits of measures for their security.
As part of the crackdown, the government ordered 300 schools affiliated with the suspended Jamaat-e-Islami group to shut down on Tuesday, telling pupils to report to government schools.