SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Militants ambushed an Indian military convoy in Kashmir on Wednesday, killing three personnel, in an escalation of violence that officials have blamed on separatist protests that have tied down security forces for more than a month.
Indian Kashmir is in the midst of the worst unrest in six years that began early last month when security forces killed a young separatist commander who was idolized by some youth, provoking an outpouring of anger.
Police superintendent Imtiaz Hussain said militants were taking advantage of the unrest to launch attacks on security forces after years of declining violence.
Militants ambushed an army convoy early on Wednesday in the town of Baramulla, killing two soldiers, and then struck at a police jeep when it arrived, killing one policeman, he said."We were aware about the presence of the militants around Baramulla town for over a month but due to violence across Kashmir, they managed to consolidate and carry out an attack," Hussain said.
At least 64 protesters have been killed and thousands injured during 40 days of unrest, while schools, shops, banks and offices remain closed in much of Kashmir as paramilitary troops patrol main roads, residential areas and mosques.
The turmoil has raised tension with Pakistan which invited India for talks on the disputed territory, drawing an angry rebuke from India.
The nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, both claim the Muslim-majority Himalayan region in full but rule it in part.
India accuses Muslim Pakistan of supporting the separatists fighting Indian forces in Kashmir while Pakistan accuses India of meddling in Pakistani trouble spots.
On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an Independence Day address he was getting messages of support from people in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, where separatists are fighting the state.
India's Major General J.S. Nain said troops were on alert to stop militants from crossing over from Pakistani Kashmir to foment trouble in the Kashmir Valley.
On Monday, militants attacked a police station in Indian Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar, killing an officer.
The army says 56 militants managed to breach the heavily fortified border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control, up to June this year, compared with 36 in 2015. It blames Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
"The ISI and terrorist organizations want to infiltrate as many terrorists as they can whenever there is turmoil in the Valley," Nain said.
Pakistan denies giving material support to the Kashmir fighters and denounces rights abuses in Indian Kashmir.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel)