India says Pakistani soldiers killed while sneaking into Kashmir

Thousands of non-residents have been leaving the region after warning of terror attacks

Indian paramilitary troopers look on as they stand guard in Srinagar on August 4, 2019. The Indian military on August 4 claimed to have killed several Pakistani attackers trying to cross the de facto border in Kashmir, as tensions ratcheted up in the disputed region and sent thousands of tourists fleeing. / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA
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India's military said it killed several Pakistani army commandos and militants as they were trying to cross the de facto border in the disputed region Kashmir, where an official warning of possible terror attacks triggered an exodus of non-residents in recent days.

"Five-seven Pakistani army regulars/terrorists eliminated; their bodies are lying on the [Line of Control], not retrieved yet due to heavy firing," the Indian army said in a statement late on Saturday.

The army said on Sunday that it had offered to allow Pakistan to retrieve the bodies. "Pakistan army has been offered to approach with white flag and take over the dead bodies for last rites, they are yet to respond," a spokesman said.

Pakistan dismissed India's claim as "baseless", and accused India of using cluster bombs against civilians, killing two people — including a four-year-old boy — and critically injuring 11 others. New Delhi denied the charge.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the shelling by India and warned on Twitter that the situation has the potential to “blow up into a regional crisis.” He reiterated that “the only road to peace and security in South Asia runs through a peaceful and just settlement of Kashmir”.

He also said that India’s attack “on innocent civilians and use of cluster munitions” is in violation of international humanitarian law as well as India’s own commitments under the 1983 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Mr Khan said the UN Security Council must take note of this “international threat to peace and security”.

India and Pakistan each control a part of Kashmir but claim sovereignty over the entire Himalayan region. Their troops frequently exchange fire across the Line of Control, while India accuses Pakistan of supporting militants seeking either autonomy for the region or to merge Indian-controlled Kashmir with Pakistan.

Pakistani police said one woman was wounded in Indian firing on Sunday.

Tensions flared in the region last week after the government of India's Jammu and Kashmir state abruptly suspended an annual pilgrimage to a Hindu shrine in Kashmir over fears of terror attacks and advised pilgrims, tourists and students from other parts of India to leave.

Several foreign governments subsequently warned their citizens against travelling to Kashmir.

India recently sent an additional 10,000 troops to the region, where about 500,000 security forces are already based, and media reported that another 25,000 were on their way.

Kashmiri politicians and residents fear the moves are a prelude to the central government in New Delhi doing away with the region's special status and intensifying an ongoing crackdown against anti-India dissenters.

In its election manifesto earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party promised to do away with special rights for Kashmiris under India's constitution.

Rumours continued swirling in the region on Sunday, ranging from the disarming of Kashmiri police forces, to the Indian military taking over local police installations, to a sweeping military crackdown being planned before India's independence day on August 15.

"India is getting cornered at the geostrategic level as America seeks Pakistani help for withdrawing from Afghanistan," Fayaz Ahmed, a political science teacher in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, told the Associated Press.

"In turn, India is mounting pressure on Pakistan by building up tensions in Kashmir though militaristic approaches inside Kashmir as well as along the frontier."