May 4, 2020 / 5:26 PM / a month ago

Eight Indian soldiers die in gunbattles amid major Kashmir offensive

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Three Indian soldiers were killed in a gunbattle with militants in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir on Monday, a day after a similar incident in which five were killed.

Juniad Khan, a senior paramilitary force officer, told Reuters that militants attacked the men from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in North Kashmir.

“Three CRPF men were killed. Two died on the spot and one on way to hospital, and another is critically injured,” he said.

On Sunday, five Indian soldiers, including a high-ranking army officer, were killed in a forest area of North Kashmir during an operation against a group of militants, two of whom were later killed.

Muslim-majority Kashmir has for decades been a hotbed of hostility between nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, each of whom claim the territory in full but rule in part.

India accuses Pakistan of funding the militant groups that fiercely resist its rule, a claim Islamabad denies.

Over the last month, New Delhi has launched a major offensive against the militants, killing 22 of them since the region was locked down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to official data, 20 Indian soldiers have been killed during the same period, the country’s biggest loss since a militant suicide attack killed 40 paramilitary police in February 2019.

Before the lockdown, local people, who predominently support the separatist movement in Kashmir, would often attack troops as they formed cordons during operations against militant groups.

India issued new operating procedures to officials in Kashmir last month, including banning public funerals of militants which often attract thousands of mourners.

The bodies of the militants killed over the last two days have not been handed back to their families, a police official said. A second official said that Indian police have also traced over 2,000 social media accounts that he said indulged in unlawful activities.

Two freelance journalists – Gouhar Geelani and Masrat Zehra - were detained last month under anti-terrorism laws over social media posts, to the alarm of international rights groups.

Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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