Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir battle with militants

At least seven died in gunfight between Indian forces and Kashmir militants. Above, a suspected shelter of the Kashmir militants. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir battle with militants

  • Government forces have launched a massive hunt for militants in parts of the disputed region since Thursday’s bombing
  • Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947

SRINAGAR, India: Indian troops suffered new losses Monday in a battle with Kashmir militants that left at least seven dead, officials said, just days after a major suicide bomb attack escalated tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

The confrontation piled more pressure on the Indian government, which has blamed Pakistan for last Thursday’s suicide attack on a convoy that killed at least 41 paramilitaries.

Several hours of shooting rocked the Pulwama district, south of Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, after officials reported that four soldiers, two militants and a civilian were killed in the latest clash.

An army major was among the dead, along with two militants from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which claimed last week’s attack, military and police officials said.

“The encounter is still on,” Col. Rakesh Kalia, a military spokesman in Kashmir, told AFP.

Hundreds of soldiers raided villages and fired warning shots at a suspected militant hideout, unleashing the firefight in the village of Pinglan.

Some militants were believed to have escaped, police said, and government forces cordoned off other villages as they gave chase.

Government forces have launched a massive hunt since an explosives-packed van struck the convoy transporting 2,500 security men close to Pinglan on Thursday.

A video on social media purportedly shows a pre-recorded message by the 20-year-old Kashmiri suicide bomber warning of more attacks.

Pakistan has denied any role in the attack.

As Islamabad recalled its envoy to New Delhi for “consultations,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for greater international action against “terrorism.”

“The cruel terrorist attack in Pulwana shows that time for talks is over,” Modi told reporters after meeting with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri in New Delhi.

Thousands of demonstrators staged angry rallies in several Indian cities over the weekend, with attacks on Kashmiris reported in different towns.

Protesters in New Delhi on Sunday burned effigies of Pakistani and JeM leaders.

Many small businesses closed Monday following a call for a nationwide shutdown.

In the capital, a Kashmiri man was beaten by a mob that accused him of chanting anti-India slogans. He was later detained by police.

A curfew remained in force for a fourth day in Jammu city, in the Hindu-majority part of Kashmir, where mobs attacked and set fire to properties belonging to Kashmiri Muslims.

Thousands of residents in the city have fled to Muslim-majority areas.

The government faces increased pressure because of an upcoming national election.

New Delhi has withdrawn trade privileges for Pakistan and ended police protection for four Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Some commentators have called for military action against Pakistan however.

India launched what it called ‘surgical strikes’ on targets in Pakistani Kashmir in September 2016, 11 days after a militant attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir which left 19 soldiers dead. Pakistan denies the strikes took place.

But experts say India has limited options for action now.

“Whatever retaliation India takes will be symbolic. It won’t have any real impact,” Ajay Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management, told AFP.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said during a visit to Islamabad that his country “will try to de-escalate tensions” between India and Pakistan. He is due to visit New Delhi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.

JeM is one of several militant groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, which has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan region and have fought two wars over the territory.

Kashmir is the world’s most militarised zone with some 500,000 Indian troops deployed to fight a rebellion that broke out in 1989.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died in the conflict. Violence has spiked since 2016 with almost 600 killed last year, the highest toll in a decade.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 20 min 5 sec ago
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”