Two truckers killed in Kashmir as apple trade turns bloody

Men loads pack of apples on a truck on a national highway in the south of Kashmir on Oct 25, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, INDIA (AFP) - Two apple truck drivers were shot dead and their vehicles set on fire in India-controlled Kashmir, police said on Friday (Oct 25), in the latest attack on the vital local fruit industry that has been pulled into the conflict between militants and New Delhi.

Tensions have soared since New Delhi's August decision to strip the autonomy of the disputed and restive Himalayan region and impose a security and communication lockdown.

The nearly US$2 billion (S$2.73 billion) apple trade has been caught between militants wanting a shutdown of the local economy in protest over India's actions and New Delhi, which wants to restore normality.

The two drivers, who were from outside Kashmir, died late on Thursday in the southern Shopian district, a militant stronghold, after gunmen sprayed their vehicles with bullets, police said.

A third driver was also injured.

"We have some important clues about the attackers," senior police official Munir Khan told AFP.

Last week, two apple traders and a driver - all three also from outside Kashmir - were killed in two separate attacks by militants in the same region, known for its vast orchards.

Gunmen also shot and wounded a local apple trader and a five-year-old girl last month in northern Sopore area.

The Kashmir Valley's apple sector - currently in harvest season - is vital to the local economy, employing more than three million people directly or indirectly.

Although the authorities said roughly 10,000 apple trucks left the valley last week, trade remains largely subdued, with many farmers voluntarily allowing the crop to rot on trees as a mark of resistance against New Delhi's August decision.

India sent in thousands of troops, detained thousands of people including hundreds of local politicians and cut phone and Internet communications in the region that is home to more than seven million people.

Landline and billed mobile phone services have been restored, but the Internet remains blacked out.

India's Supreme Court on Thursday told the government to provide a timeline on the restrictions as it heard petitions challenging the government's gag order on communication.

The court fixed the next date of hearing on Nov 5.

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