ISLAMABAD (AP) — The world's largest bloc of Muslim countries expressed concern Saturday over alleged human rights violations in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which has seen weeks of deadly clashes between Muslim protesters and police.
Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said at a news conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad that the situation in Kashmir was deteriorating and urged the international community to act.
"The situation is getting worse rather than better and this cannot continue," Madani said after meeting with Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to Pakistan's prime minister.
Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region, is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in its entirety by both. Most Kashmiris want an end to Indian rule and favor independence or a merger with Pakistan, which has long called for a referendum on the region's future. Hindu-majority India has refused to hold such a vote.
"We should not be afraid of referendum," Madani said, adding that it was up to the Kashmiri people to decide their future.
Standing next to him at the news conference, Aziz accused Indian forces of using lethal force against Kashmiris protesting peacefully over extrajudicial killings. He said a peaceful solution to the dispute over the region "is an imperative for regional peace and stability."
More than 68,000 people have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in the subsequent Indian military crackdown. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebels, a charge Islamabad denies.
Meanwhile, a Kashmiri couple in their late 70s was injured in firing by Indian forces who have intensified nocturnal raids to arrest protesters in the region, police said Saturday.
The husband and wife were injured Friday night by pellets from a shotgun fired as they tried to resist a police party looking for one of their sons for allegedly leading anti-India protests in the southern Tral area, police and locals said.
A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy said the raiding party "accidently fired" at the couple and "regretted" the incident.
In signs of an intensified crackdown against protesters in Indian-held Kashmir since last week, local residents have increasingly accused counterinsurgency police and army soldiers of systematically raiding neighborhoods, ransacking houses and beating residents to intimidate protesters.
More than 2,000 people have been arrested for participating in protests and clashes in recent weeks, state government officials said.
Earlier in the week, Indian army soldiers beat a young college teacher to death and injured dozens of other people in a raid in the southern Khrew area. The army later said that it regretted the incident.
A security lockdown and protest strikes have shut the Indian portion of Kashmir since the killing of a popular rebel commander on July 8 sparked some of Kashmir's largest protests against Indian rule in recent years.
A strict curfew and a series of communication blackouts have failed to stop the protests, as residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.
At least 63 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in protest-related violence.
Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.