SRINAGAR, India: An Indian soldier was killed by Pakistani forces on the Kashmir border, the military said Friday, as a tense lockdown in the region of seven million residents continued for the 19th day.
The nuclear-armed neighbours regularly target each other with mortar shells and gunfire on the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Himalayan territory which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.
But the latest skirmish comes as ties hit a new low after India revoked the autonomy of the part of the region it controls, sparking protests from the local population and outrage from Pakistan.
The Indian soldier was manning a post in mountainous Rajouri district Friday when he came under “unprovoked fire” from across the border, local media reports said.
A New Delhi-based Indian Army spokesman confirmed the incident to AFP.
The death was the fourth claimed by the Indian side since the August 5 decision to strip the region’s special constitutional status.
Pakistan’s military has said five people including three soldiers have died in shelling by Indian forces.
The border clashes are happening amid a curfew in the valley, including its main city of Srinagar where fears of large-scale street protests against India’s move persist.
Posters have sprung up across the region calling for a public march to the local UN office on Friday.
“Preachers in all mosques should make the people aware of India’s plans to change the demography of the state (Jammu and Kashmir),” handbills written in Urdu said.
Sporadic demonstrations have rocked some parts of Srinagar, with clashes between stone-throwing protesters and government forces leaving more than 100 injured.
Residents in the Muslim-majority region have complained of a stifling environment as well as the inability to get in touch with family and friends worried about their wellbeing, although some of the restrictions have been eased in recent days.
Kashmir has waged a three-decade-long armed rebellion against Indian rule with tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, lost in the conflict.
Ahead of its controversial announcement, India rushed tens of thousands of extra troops to the restive region to join 500,000 already in the valley, and imposed a strict communications clampdown.
The near-total communications blackout has triggered global concern, with a group of UN human rights experts warning Thursday it amounted to “collective punishment” and risked exacerbating regional tensions.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, telling him Paris was keeping an eye on the Kashmir region.
France would “remain attentive to ensure the interests and rights of the civilian populations are properly taken into account in the territories on both sides of the (Kashmir) ceasefire line”, Macron said.
At least 152 people suffered injuries from tear gas and pellets in disputed Kashmir since Indian security forces this month launched a sweeping crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.
Indian authorities have deployed additional paramilitary police, banned public gatherings and cut cellular and Internet links to prevent large scale protests after withdrawing the revolt-torn territory’s special status on Aug 5.
Still, people especially youth, have come out in the lanes of the region’s key city of Srinagar, on occasions such as Friday prayers or Eid this month, throwing stones, prompting retaliatory action by security forces.
Data obtained by Reuters showed 152 people reported to Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and Shri Maharaj Hari Singh with injuries from pellet shots and tear gas fire between Aug 5 and Aug 21.
The government, which has not yet provided any figures of the injured in the sporadic protests, has said there have been no deaths in this month’s demonstrations in a region where more than 50,000 have died since an armed revolt broke out in 1989.
India hopes that withdrawal of special privileges for Kashmir, such as exclusive rights to land, government jobs and college places and opening them up to people from the rest of the country will help to integrate the territory.
Pakistan lays claim to Muslim-majority Kashmir and has condemned the decision to change its status.
A local government official in Jammu and Kashmir, however, said the number of injured was probably higher than the figures from the two hospitals.
Many of those who were discharged within hours do not feature in their list, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, while others, with wounds treated at smaller hospitals, remain unaccounted for.