India unlikely to reduce troops in Kashmir-official
27 May 2007
Srinagar: India is unlikely to reduce the number of troops in Kashmir immediately, the state chief minister said on Sunday, citing a recent spurt in separatist violence in the Himalayan region. In March, New Delhi set up a panel of experts to determine whether to reduce the troop numbers after a fall in violence in region since 2004. But Kashmir's chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said recent events suggested troop withdrawal may not be feasible. 'Though all of us desire withdrawal of troops ... it may not be possible to do it in view of the fact that there has been increase in violence incidents in the recent past,' Azad said in a statement. India has around half a million troops in Kashmir battling a Muslim separatist insurgency. Officials say more than 42,000 people have been killed in the revolt since 1989. Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000 dead or missing. India pulled out a few thousand troops in early 2006 from Kashmir due to decreased levels of violence, but local politicians want more soldiers withdrawn. On Saturday, two soldiers were killed and two wounded when militants exploded a bomb and fired at a security patrol near the Line of Control, a military control line which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. A Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba claimed responsibility for the attacks. Last week, seven militants and a soldier were killed in gun battles in southern Kashmir. 'We have experience that whenever any leniency has been given on security front, militants have taken advantage', said Azad. The region, ruled partly by India and Pakistan but claimed by both in full, has caused two of their three wars. Officials say violence has declined considerably since India and Pakistan started a cautious peace process in 2004, with only three deaths a day on average last year compared to ten a day a few years ago. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has pressed for the demilitarisation of Kashmir as a step towards a final solution to the neighbours' decades-old dispute over the region.