Militants kill three Indian soldiers in Kashmir

An Indian army soldier stands guard while patrolling near the Line of Control, a ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, in PoonchReuters file photo

Three soldiers were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir during a clash with suspected militants as the disputed region marked the fourth anniversary of New Delhi imposing direct rule, police said Saturday.

An army patrol looking for armed militants in the forests of Halan in the southern Kashmir valley clashed with the militants late Friday night, leaving the trio wounded in the exchange of fire.

"The three personnel sustained injuries and later succumbed," police posted on Twitter.

A search operation was under way to track the militants.

Clashes between armed militants and government forces have dropped significantly since August 2019, when prime minister Narendra Modi's government ended the restive Muslim-majority region's limited autonomy.

The government says the move was meant to bring peace and development to the embattled region.

But nearly 900 people, including 144 members of Indian security forces, have died in the four years since the change.

At least 63 people, including nine civilians, 16 government forces personnel and 38 suspected militants have been killed this year so far, compared with 253 deaths last year.

Young men continue to join rebel groups that have been fighting for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan, which controls a smaller part of the divided Himalayan territory.

India's top court is currently weighing whether Modi's government acted lawfully in suspending Kashmir's constitutionally guaranteed semi-autonomy.

The region has witnessed a drastic curtailment of civil liberties since, with restrictions on protests and journalists complaining of official harassment.

Several leaders of the local Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were detained overnight after authorities denied them permission to stage a protest against Saturday's anniversary of the 2019 decision.

"All this is being done to hoodwink the public opinion in the country," PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti posted on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X, alongside footage of a party official being detained by police.

"Just goes on to expose the façade of normalcy."

Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops were deployed Saturday around commercial districts in Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city, to keep order during the anniversary.

City shops are often closed in Srinagar during protests as a gesture of solidarity.

But two members of commercial associations representing the city's shopkeepers, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP that retailers had been verbally instructed by police to remain open through the day.