Mon Apr 10, 2017 01:52PM
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard at a polling station in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard at a polling station in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The Indian army says its troops have killed four suspected militants in an overnight firefight at the borderline of the Indian-administered part of Kashmir.

According to Colonel Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, the incident occurred late on Sunday when the gunmen sneaked across the Line of Control (LoC) and on the Indian-held portion of the Himalayan region in Keran sector from the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir but were intercepted by Indian soldiers.

“The four infiltrators were killed in an exchange of fire. Their bodies and four weapons have also been recovered,” Kalia further said on Monday.

The LoC is a heavily fortified borderline between the two arch-rival neighbors, separating the Pakistani-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit–Baltistan in the west and northwest, respectively, from India's province of Jammu and Kashmir in the north. The LoC, which dates back to over four decades ago, is not an internationally recognized demarcation line but serves as the de facto border between the two countries in the region.

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Also on Sunday, a local by-election in Kashmir for a vacant seat in India's parliament was marred by protests and violence, which claimed the lives of eight civilians and wounded almost 100 others, many of whom from bullets fired by Indian police and paramilitary forces.

According to officials, around 100 police officers and paramilitary soldiers also sustained injuries in the clashes.

In response, separatist leaders, who opposed India's military presence in the region, called for a two-day strike, prompting people to close shops and schools on Monday. Public transport was also suspended in a sign of solidarity with separatist leaders.  

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Kashmiri protestors clash with Indian security forces near a polling station in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two partitioned and gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the disputed territory. They, however, reached an agreement to maintain a ceasefire in Kashmir in November 2003.

Since then, there have been sporadic clashes - with the two sides trading accusations of violating the ceasefire - but no major armed conflict between the two countries.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been strained in the past several months, with New Delhi blaming Islamabad for a raid on an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir in last September, which killed 19 soldiers. The Indian army blamed Pakistan-based militants for the assault. Islamabad denies any role in the attack.

The volatile region has also witnessed an increase in mass protests and violent attacks since early July last year, when a top pro-independence figure was killed in a shootout with Indian troops. Dozens of people have lost their lives in the ensuing crackdown. The crackdown, however, has failed to halt the protests.

India has already deployed around 500,000 soldiers in its portion of the disputed region, where militant groups have for decades been fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.