By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian police detained separatist leaders in the disputed Kashmir region on Monday and sealed off roads in an effort to stifle protests against the killing of civilians on the weekend.
Unrest has intensified over recent weeks in the Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan, and seven civilians were killed on Saturday when security forces opened fire at a protest over the killing of three militants.
Separatists leaders Mohammad Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said they were detained as they marched towards an army headquarters in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar. Another leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was under house arrest, police said.
“Indian troops are killing Kashmiris,” Malik told reporters as police in riot gear took him away in a white vehicle. “For the last many years they are on a killing spree.”
A senior police official, who declined to be identified, said Malik and Farooq would be released “once the situation stabilises”.
A spokesman for India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi said he had no comment.
Police and para-military forces put up barricades in various parts of Srinagar, including on roads leading to the army headquarters, and were patrolling in force.
The army warned the population against being used to make trouble.
“Army advises people not to fall prey to such designs of anti-national forces,” the army said in a statement late on Sunday.
“It’s an attempt to pit the civilian population against the security forces”.
One soldier was killed in the Saturday violence.
Shops, government offices and banks were closed in Srinagar and a nearby district and traffic was off the roads. Authorities have also shut down mobile internet and train services.
Pakistan, which like India, claims Kashmir in full but rules it in part, condemned the Saturday killings.
“Only dialogue and not violence and killings will resolve this conflict,” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said, adding that his country would raise India’s “human rights violations” at the United Nations.
Hindu-majority India accuses Pakistan of training and arming separatist militants operating in Kashmir.
Pakistan denies that saying it only offers political support to the people of the Muslim region who are being denied their rights by India’s security forces.
Indian forces say they have killed 242 militants this year in the region, while 101 civilians and 82 members of the security forces have been killed, making it the bloodiest year in more than a decade.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Indian authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for “indiscriminate use of force”.
“Security forces are aware that villagers gather, protest during gunfights with Kashmir militants and have responsibility to ensure civilians are not at risk,” she said in a tweet.
(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)