October 8, 2019 / 4:46 AM / a month ago

India to lift travel advisory on Kashmir two months after crackdown

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India on Thursday will lift an advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to leave Jammu & Kashmir, further rolling back steps taken during a crackdown launched before the government scrapped the special status of the Muslim majority state two months ago.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Dal Lake, one of Kashmir's main tourist attractions, in Srinagar, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo

But underlining the continued security risks after the state government issued its advisory late on Monday, police said on Tuesday that two militants belonging to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had been killed.

A military official told Reuters the militants were caught in a firefight in Pulwama district, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and in the same area where in February a suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian paramilitary police.

A police official, who declined to be named, said the two deaths meant six militants had been killed since the crackdown began in August.

Thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers fled Jammu & Kashmir in early August after authorities issued a security alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-backed groups, assertions rejected by Islamabad.

Telephone and internet services were suspended and public movements restricted in some areas to prevent protests hours before India announced it had revoked the region’s special status.

Some curbs have since been lifted. On Sunday, some 15 members of the main National Conference party were allowed to meet two senior leaders detained in the crackdown.

However, mobile and internet services are largely still blocked in the Kashmir valley.

“PARADISE ON EARTH”

Kashmir touts itself as a “Paradise on Earth” and is known for its mountains, glaciers and Dal Lake, a favourite destination centuries ago for Mughal emperors escaping the summer heat of India’s plains.

However, Britain and other countries still have advisories in place discouraging their citizens from travelling to Jammu and Kashmir, where a grenade attack injured 10 people at the weekend.

A military official, who also declined to be named, said the militants’ deaths on Monday came after the military set up checkpoints and laid ambushes in orchards.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and both claim the territory in full. More than 40,000 people have been killed in an insurgency in the Indian part of Kashmir since 1989.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says scrapping the state’s special status was necessary to integrate it fully into the rest of India and spur development. Critics say the decision will alienate people further and fuel armed resistance.

Additional reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Sankalp Phartiyal in New Delhi; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Gareth Jones

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