India says it has pulled 30K forces from Kashmir

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2009 6:26 AM

India has withdrawn 30,000 soldiers from Kashmir as rebel attacks decreased over the past two years, the defense minister said Friday, but hundreds of thousands are believed to remain in the heavily militarized region also claimed by Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatist groups and Islamabad, New Delhi's longtime rival, have been demanding that India thin its forces in the region to boost efforts to settle the decades-old dispute over the territory.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of the Himalayan region since their partition when British colonial rule ended in 1947. A dozen Kashmiri insurgent groups, which seek either independence or merger with Pakistan, have been fighting Indian rule since 1989.

On Friday, India's Defense Minister A.K. Antony told reporters that the army has withdrawn 30,000 soldiers of its own accord over the past two years and has offered to further draw down forces in the future.

India is believed to have 500,000 to 700,000 army and paramilitary soldiers in the portion of Kashmir it controls. The army won't confirm its deployment levels.

Separatists in Indian Kashmir were skeptical of the announcement.

"It's too early to say anything without any independent confirmation of the purported ground troop withdrawal. We will verify these claims," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a leader of an umbrella group of political and religious separatists.

Antony said the Indian army withdrew one division last year and a second this year because of the decrease in violence.

Kashmiris, weary from the bloodshed, appear to be shifting away from militant violence.

Deaths connected to the insurgency dropped from 4,507 in 2001 to 541 last year, according to the Indian government.

India and Pakistan began peace talks in 2004 to find a solution to the dispute, but New Delhi suspended them after last year's terror attacks in Mumbai. The two countries control parts of Kashmir and both claim the whole region.