Thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers began leaving the disputed region of Kashmir after a local government alert over possible militant attacks, and India said it killed at least five militants who were trying to attack its forces.
Indian security officials said on Friday they had found evidence of attacks planned by what they said were Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
A local government order effectively called off the pilgrimage, asking the pilgrims and tourists to return home.
Srinagar-based Indian defense spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said on Saturday that there had been a number of attempts by Pakistan-based militants to disturb peace in the Kashmir region and target the pilgrims.
Around five to seven militants were killed when they tried to attack Indian troops near an area known as the Keran sector, Kalia said, adding that arms and ammunition were recovered in the operation.
“Security forces will continue to respond to all nefarious activities,” Kalia said.
A Pakistani defense spokesperson dismissed India’s assertions as “mere propaganda”, calling them “blatant lies”.
A senior local government official in Kashmir said the local government advisory had caused panic and led to the departure of “thousands” of tourists, pilgrims and laborers.
The official did not give a specific number, but he said most of the 20,000 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists and more than 200,000 laborers were leaving the region.
Kashmir, claimed by both India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, has long been a flashpoint between the two countries. Tensions flared after a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb. 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between the two nations.
India accuses Pakistan of funding armed militants, as well as separatist groups in India’s portion of the region. Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the separatist movement.
In a statement late on Saturday, the Pakistani government said it was concerned about the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir, adding it rejects India’s assertions of “intelligence inputs” about some imminent attack.