Schools shut in conflict-torn Kashmir after deadly shelling

AP News
Posted: Nov 03, 2016 5:01 AM
Schools shut in conflict-torn Kashmir after deadly shelling

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have ordered hundreds of schools to close after days of deadly shelling in areas near the militarized frontier with Pakistan.

Many schools in the disputed Himalayan region have already been shut since anti-India protests erupted in July. Since then, Kashmir has been under a tight security lockdown, as well as a separatist-sponsored strike, as Indian forces struggle to quell the uprising and arrest thousands of civilian protesters. At least 90 people have died and thousands have been injured.

A total of 26 school buildings have been torched by people police describe as "miscreants."

Police officer S.P. Vaid said a criminal investigation into the school burning is ongoing and about 20 suspects have been detained and are being questioned.

"It would be premature on our part to blame any particular quarter. It's a matter of investigation," he said.

Separatist leaders who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir have condemned the burning of schools and described the perpetrators as "enemies of Kashmir."

They have called on students, parents and teachers to march to nearby schools on Monday to observe "school safety day."

A statement issued Wednesday by three top leaders, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammed Yasin Malik, appealed to Kashmiris to "take necessary measures at the local level to thwart the ongoing targeting of our schools by the Indian state and its agencies."

The state's top administrator, Chief Secretary B.R. Sharma, said Thursday that about 300 schools were closed this week after cross-border firing escalated between Indian and Pakistani troops.

"We're reviewing the decision by tomorrow as there has been some calm along the borders," Sharma said.

Troops from the two countries have traded fire frequently since last month, when India said it carried out "surgical strikes" against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir following an attack on an Indian military base that killed 19 soldiers. Pakistan dismissed the claim and called on India to produce evidence to back it up.

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Tensions soared this week when at least 14 civilians were killed on both sides of Kashmir on Monday and Tuesday. The tensions have also escalated at the government level, with Pakistan withdrawing six diplomats from its embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Both sides accuse the other of initiating the firing.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbors by a heavily militarized Line of Control guarded by their two armies. Separate paramilitary border forces on both sides guard the undisputed part of the frontier separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 against Indian rule. Since then, more than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.