Tue May 2, 2006 7:30 AM BST
JAMMU, India (Reuters) – India rushed hundreds of extra troops to hunt for Islamist militants in the remote mountains of Kashmir on Tuesday, after 35 Hindus were killed over two days in one of the worst massacres in the region in years.
The troop deployment began as a general strike — called to protest against the killings — shut down the predominantly Hindu Jammu region of Indian Kashmir, where some half a million soldiers and policemen are deployed.
Suspected Islamist militants shot dead 22 Hindus in two villages in the mountains of Doda district, 170 km (106 miles) northeast of Jammu, Kashmir’s winter capital, early on Monday.
On the same day, nine bullet-riddled bodies of Hindus were found in the neighbouring district of Udhampur. Four more bodies had been found in the same area on Sunday.
“We are definitely augmenting troop levels to prevent easier movement of militants in these areas,” a senior police officer told Reuters.
New Delhi has been accused in the past of failing to protect Kashmir’s Hindus, who are a minority in mainly Hindu India’s only Muslim-majority state.
An Islamist revolt against Indian rule in the disputed region — claimed both by India and Pakistan and ruled by them in parts — has killed more than 45,000 people since 1989.
The attacks on Hindus in Doda and Udhampur came ahead of talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kashmir’s main political separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, due in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Schools, banks and offices in many areas in Doda and Udhampur districts were closed and traffic was largely limited to security vehicles and government cars.
Residents of Kashmir, a region that triggered two of three India-Pakistan wars, said they were weary of violence.
“We have seen so much bloodshed that some of have us have become insensitive. These killings should end,” Thakur Dass, who was visiting a relative wounded in the Doda attack, told Reuters by telephone.
Indian officials say the overall level of separatist violence has come down in the revolt-torn region since India and Pakistan launched new moves to make peace three years ago.
But there has been a spike in militant attacks in recent weeks with the melting of winter snow, which makes movement of militants easier in the mountainous region.
Some Indian officials say the massacre could be a response to high voter turnout in by-elections last week in Doda, and could be aimed at souring the mood ahead of Wednesday’s talks.
Pakistan condemned the killings.
“We condemn all acts of terrorism. We are against terrorism because we ourselves have been victim of terrorism,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
Indian and Pakistani officials are due to hold two days of talks in New Delhi beginning Tuesday to discuss moves to boost links between the two sides of Kashmir administered by them.