Kashmir hit by deadly unrest on India Independence Day

Indian paramilitary soldiers hug each other after a gunfight in the Nowhatta area of downtown of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir on Aug 15, 2016.
Indian paramilitary soldiers hug each other after a gunfight in the Nowhatta area of downtown of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir on Aug 15, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SRINAGAR (AFP) - A paramilitary police commander was shot dead in Kashmir's main city while seven suspected separatist militants were killed in gun battles on Monday (Aug 15) as violence flared in the disputed Himalayan region on Indian Independence Day.

The commander was critically injured in an ambush in Srinagar's Nowhatta locality and later died in hospital while two militants were killed in a shootout which followed the attack, an officer of India's Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) told AFP.

"We have lost a commanding officer. Two militants were also killed in the ensuing gunfight," said Mr Atul Karwal, the force's inspector general in the region.

He said nine others were wounded after coming under fire during a patrol, including two local policemen who were in a critical condition at a hospital.

The officer could not immediately confirm the identities of the slain militants but said they were "non-locals", usually a reference to Pakistani nationals.

Authorities have imposed a curfew in large parts of Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, since July 9 during an upsurge in violence sparked by the killing of a top militant commander called Burhan Wani in a gunfight with security forces.

More than 50 civilians have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces, and thousands more injured in the region's worst violence since 2010.

In a separate gunfight on Monday, five militants were killed near the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan - in the northern Uri sector, the area's police chief said.

Mr Imtiyaz Hussain said the militants were spotted by guards after they sneaked over to the Indian side of the heavily militarised border.

Two Indian army officers including a commanding officer were also wounded and were evacuated to an army hospital in Srinagar.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in August 1947 but both claim the territory in full.

It is the epicentre of a separatist insurgency, with several rebel groups fighting Indian troops and police as they seek either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Separatist groups traditionally order citizens to observe a shutdown on Independence Day to protest against Indian rule.

The state's first woman chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called on India and Pakistan to make the LoC irrelevant to bring peace in the region.

"I appeal to both countries that this line dividing Kashmir should be made irrelevant," Ms Mufti told a thinly attended gathering at a sports stadium in Srinagar.

She blamed the Indian leadership for the current crisis in Kashmir and appealed to protesting youths to return to their schools and colleges.

The main event at the fortified arena was marred by spectators booing the chief minister after the Indian flag fell to the ground as she tried to hoist it, prompting authorities to order a probe to determine if it was the result of an act of sabotage.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no direct reference to the situation in Kashmir in his annual Independence Day speech but made a general appeal for an end to violence, adding that India "will never tolerate terrorism".