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GENEVA, June 14, 2018 (News Wires) — The U.N. human rights chief is calling for a commission of inquiry to conduct an independent, international investigation into alleged rights violations in Kashmir.

A first U.N. report on the rights situation in the contested region details violations and abuses in both Indian- and Pakistani-held portions of Kashmir, and highlights “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.”

It adds to criticism about India’s tactics in Kashmir, saying its security forces used “excessive force that led to unlawful killings” and caused many injuries.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the conflict “has robbed millions of their basic human rights.”

The report released Thursday, based on remote monitoring, says U.N. investigators have been denied unconditional access to either side of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir.

SRINAGAR, India, June 10, 2018 (News Wires) — A group of militants sneaked into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir from the Pakistani side of the disputed territory on Sunday, sparking a gunbattle that left at least six suspected rebels dead, the Indian military said.

The fighting began early Sunday when soldiers intercepted a group of insurgents along the highly militarized de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, said Col. Rajesh Kalia.

He said soldiers were still carrying out search operations in the remote and forested northwestern Keran sector, where the incident occurred.

There was no independent confirmation.

On Thursday, at least one soldier was killed and another wounded after suspected militants attacked an Indian patrol in the same area, the army said.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 and demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side.

Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.

Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

SRINAGAR, India, June 3, 2018 (News Wires) — Two paramilitary soldiers were killed and eight civilians wounded Sunday when Pakistani soldiers attacked dozens of forward posts along the highly militarized frontier in disputed Kashmir, Indian officials said.

The fighting comes barely a week after the two nuclear-armed rivals agreed to stop trading fire along the volatile frontier and uphold a cease-fire accord dating back 15 years. The two sides on Tuesday agreed to defuse tensions in Kashmir and use existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border meetings at local commanders’ level to resolve the issues.

Pakistan did not immediately comment.

Indian border guards said Pakistan “yet again blatantly” violated the 2003-cease-fire agreement and they were retaliating. They said the Pakistani shelling was “indiscriminate and unprovoked” and was not just targeting paramilitary outposts but also villages.

Indian authorities were first trying to evacuate sick and injured villagers living near the frontier in bulletproof vehicles amid intense shelling and automatic gunfire, said top police officer S.D. Singh.

Singh said they have kept temporary shelters ready to receive frontier residents.

Tensions have soared in recent months, as both sides have shelled border posts and villagers. Each side has accused the other of starting the hostilities in violation of the 2003 accord.

India says 25 civilians and 18 soldiers have been killed this year in over 800 cease-fire violations initiated by Pakistan.

Pakistan accuses Indian forces of more than 1,050 cease-fire violations this year, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.

The soldiers from the two nations have engaged in fierce border skirmishes along the rugged and mountainous Line of Control, as well as a lower-altitude 200-kilometre (125-mile) boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab, where most of the latest fighting occurred.

India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, which both claim. They have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the region.

The fighting has become a predictable cycle of violence as the region convulses with decades-old animosities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side.

Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

SRINAGAR, India, May 30, 2018 (Reuters) - Thousands of people from the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir headed back to their homes near the de facto border with Pakistan on Wednesday, after their armies agreed to stop exchanging artillery fire following repeated recent clashes.

More than 50,000 people had taken shelter in schools and colleges in the Indian-ruled part of disputed Kashmir, away from the shelling that officials say killed 12 people and wounded many more on both sides over the past few weeks.

Mountainous Kashmir is divided between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who both claim it in full and have fought two of their three wars over the region since their separation in 1947. On Tuesday, their armies agreed to “fully implement” a 2003 ceasefire agreement.

“In case of any issue, restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilisation of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings at local commander’s level,” Pakistan’s military said in a statement.

Bacchan Lal, the headman of Abdullian village in Jammu and Kashmir, who has been living in a college with 350 other people over the past two weeks, said such agreements rarely last long.

“They agree to respect the ceasefire several times every year but then they violate it again. Every time people are killed, cattle perish and we end up in such camps,” he said. “We are in camps for the second time this year. We don’t want this uncertainty. We want permanent peace as we had 30 years ago”.

Farmer Chuni Lal, 45, said he was worried about a delay in sowing premium Basmati rice this year because of the hostility. He said tillers like him could not afford to miss the key planting season, urging the countries to find a lasting solution to the regular outbreaks of firing.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who runs the state with the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, welcomed the ceasefire agreement.

“This brings great relief to the people residing in the vicinity,” she said on Twitter on Wednesday. “Peace on our borders is the first essential step to a larger understanding and I truly hope it sustains.”

Tensions between the two sides had escalated since an attack on an Indian army camp in February that India blamed on Pakistan. Islamabad regularly denies Indian allegations that it trains and arms militants and helps them infiltrate across the so-called Line of Control that divides Kashmir.

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, May 13, 2018 (News Wires) — A Pakistani official says an old wooden bridge over a fast-moving river in Kashmir collapsed as 23 students were taking pictures on it, leading to at least three deaths.

Raja Shahid Mahmood, an administrator in the scenic Neelum valley, says five students were rescued after the bridge collapsed Sunday, and that rescuers are looking for others.

The Neelum Valley is a popular tourist destination in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. The students, in their early 20s, attend the medical college at Faisalabad.

Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India, both of which claim the Himalayan region in its entirety.

SRINAGAR, India April 12,2018 (AP)— The girl, just 8 years old, was grazing her family’s ponies on a chilly January day in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped. Her raped and mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.

In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a young woman in the heart of India’s capital moved hundreds of thousands of Indians to take to the streets to demand stricter rape laws.

But the gang rape, torture and death of a Muslim girl in Indian-controlled Kashmir has seen far different protests: Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the six men accused in the repeated rape and killing of the girl inside a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them police officers, are innocent.

The girl, who was savaged in the attacks, had enormous eyes, a quiet smile and one name: Asifa. The Associated Press doesn’t usually identify victims of sexual violence but her name has been widely reported in the Indian media.

There have always been differences between India’s Muslim minority and Hindu majority in this constitutionally secular nation of 1.3 billion. Violence has flared sporadically over the decades since India gained freedom from Britain in 1947, sparking bloody religious riots as the subcontinent was partitioned to create largely Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan.

For the most part, though, day-to-day interactions between Hindus and Muslim have been largely peaceful. But that polite distance has widened into a schism since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, was swept into power in a decisive election victory. India’s religious minorities, especially the Muslims who form 13 per cent of the population, have felt increasingly isolated since then, as attacks by Hindu extremist groups have risen.

So it was in Kathua, the small town in Jammu-Kashmir state where the girl was attacked. Police say the attack had been planned for over a month as a way to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders, into leaving the area.

Conflict had been brewing in recent years between Muslim nomads and local Hindus over land disputes. Hindus claimed the herders were encroaching on their lands. There had been scuffles after nomadic girls had been allegedly harassed by Hindu men.

Kashmir has over 1 million nomadic herders, including the Bakarwals, who mainly tend flocks of sheep, goats and horses. For centuries they have migrated every summer to highland pastures and forests, and returned to the plains of Jammu in winter to graze their animals, living in temporary shelters.

But over the past 20 years some have begun settling in permanent homes, usually built in forests, sparking conflicts with people already living in those areas.

“For some time now the tensions have been high between Muslims and some Hindus” in the area around Kathua, said Javaid Rahi, who runs Jammu-Kashmir Tribal Foundation, a non-profit group studying the state’s nomadic people.

“The crisis has especially deepened since the BJP has come to the power and some fanatic Hindus in Jammu have communally polarized the atmosphere,” he said.

Police say the attack on Asifa was rooted in religious politics, with a group of local men planning to scare away the Bakarwals by simply kidnapping a girl. But once they had Asifa, that plan was quickly forgotten. Forensic reports say she had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled. Eventually, her corpse was thrown into the forest where it was found a week later.

While the 2012 New Delhi gang rape galvanized India into taking a hard look at widespread sexual violence, and pressed long-reluctant police and politicians into taking that violence seriously, the attack in Kashmir is mired in the divisive religious politics that have emerged over the last four years.

Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch, or Hindu Unity Platform, marched through the streets of Jammu, the largest city in southern Kashmir, carrying a massive Indian flag, chanting “Long Live India!” and demanding that police release the men. The group has links to the ruling BJP, and two BJP lawmakers have publicly defended the accused men.

On Monday, Hindu lawyers in Kathua tried to block police from filing their investigation report at the local court. They said the police investigation was flawed and claimed the six Hindu men accused in the attack had been framed.

The police were forced to call for backup before handing the report of their investigation to the judge at his home.

Six men, including two police officers, are accused of being directly involved in the attacks on Asifa. One of those policemen also allegedly joined in the search for her body. Two other policemen were arrested for attempts to destroy evidence.

The case has drawn sharp reactions from across the country.

“Too many BJP supporters seem willing to abandon their tough stand on sexual violence on the basis of religious prejudice. The police allege Asifa’s rape and murder was part of an effort to drive the Muslim community away from the area. Yet, for the local lawyers and other BJP supporters, the Hindu suspects and the Muslim victim were grounds for blocking prosecution of the case,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday.

The politics over a child’s rape and killing has upset many of the area’s Hindu residents too.

“Politics apart, this is horrible that some people would see this horrendous crime through a religious prism to gain some mileage. It’s a new low and I don’t know if we can stoop any lower after this,” said Girdhari Lal, a retired teacher in Jammu.

 

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