India starts removing some bunkers in Kashmir

By Izhar Wani (AFP)


An Indian security step-down is part of plans to defuse deadly street protests

SRINAGAR, India – Security forces started removing some security bunkers from Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Tuesday in an effort to ease tensions in a region racked by deadly protests.

“The process of removing some 16 security bunkers from Srinagar has started,” Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told AFP.

The plan to remove the bunkers was announced last week in Srinagar after a meeting of top officials from the state, the Indian army, paramilitary forces and the intelligence agencies.

The move is part of an eight-point plan put forward by India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram to try to defuse deadly anti-India street protests that have left some 110 protesters and bystanders dead since early June.

Local authorities also decided to release dozens of people arrested for throwing stones at security forces.

Checkpoints, bunkers and harsh military laws that give security forces sweeping powers to carry out arrests and destroy property in Indian Kashmir are seen by local politicians as fuelling a sense of occupation in the region.

The security infrastructure is a legacy of a 20-year separatist insurgency that has left an estimated 47,000 people dead, but militant violence has fallen to its lowest levels since the uprising began.

“The removal of security bunkers from Srinagar is an acceptance of the fact by India that militancy has gone down,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head of the moderate faction of the region’s main separatist alliance.

“It is a welcome step but there is a need to remove more bunkers from Srinagar and other towns,” he told AFP. “The step should not be a symbolic one. The change should be visible on the ground and a step towards demilitarisation of the region.”

India has an estimated half million troops in the Himalayan region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and has caused two wars between the estranged South Asian neighbours.

Also Tuesday, medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had resumed counselling traumatized victims of unrest in Indian Kashmir after suspending its work last month because of the violent street demonstrations.

“We’re dealing with a population already heavily traumatized by over two decades of violence, and today people are continuing to suffer psychologically,” said Maria Veerart, MSF’s Mental Health Officer in Kashmir.

Veerart said the organisation had resumed visiting victims of the recent violence and had provided counselling to 50 people since last week.

A wave of anti-India street protests began on June 11 when a 17-year old student was killed by a police teargas shell.

Since then, more than a 100 people have died in the violence, though the intensity of the demonstrations has fallen sharply in the last 10 days.

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