Fierce gun battles leave a dozen dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir

At least three Indian troops and nine pro-independence fighters have been killed in two separate incidents in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Indian army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said that five fighters were killed early Sunday in the northern Keran area close to the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

The clashes also left three soldiers dead and several more critically injured, he added.

The fierce fighting came within 24 hours of another deadly gun battle between pro-independence fighters and New Delhi government forces in the southern Kulgam area.

Police said four fighters from the local area were killed.

The fighting came days after India introduced a new law that would make its citizens eligible to become permanent residents of the Indian-controlled Kashmir, raising fears of demographic change in the Muslim-majority, Himalayan region.

The new law was introduced as the country of 1.3 billion people is under a 21-day lockdown in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, raising speculation that the timing is intentional.

Indian-controlled Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown since August 5, when administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status.

New Delhi dispatched thousands of additional troops to the region, declared a strict curfew, shut down telecommunications and internet services, and arrested political leaders and pro-independence campaigners as well.

New Delhi had promised special status to Kashmir when the region was partitioned between India and Pakistan seven decades ago.

However, Modi and his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have long opposed Kashmir’s autonomy.

After gaining a larger mandate from his Hindu power base in elections earlier last year, Modi’s government wasted no time in implementing their manifesto of creating a Hindu-first nation, where Muslim opposition and dissent has no say and will be silenced.

India’s decision in Kashmir has sparked protests from the local population and outrage from Pakistan.

Kashmir has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan, which have fought three of their four wars over the disputed Himalayan territory. Both countries rule parts of Kashmir while claiming it in full.

Indian troops are in constant clashes with the armed groups seeking independence across the Muslim-majority valley of Kashmir.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training the fighters and allowing them across the restive frontier in an attempt to launch attacks. Pakistan denies the allegation.

Thousands of people have been killed in the unrest in Kashmir over the past two decades.