Militants kill 2 Indians in bid to stop Kashmir apple trade

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Gunmen on Thursday shot and killed an Indian truck driver and his attendant and wounded another driver as they fired at three vehicles laden with apple boxes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, police said.

The shooting was in an apparent protest of New Delhi's stripping the region of its semi-autonomous status in August.

Senior police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan said those targeted were from the Indian states of Rajasthan and Haryana and were about to drive away with the apple consignment from southern Shopian area in Kashmir.

The attackers set the three trucks on fire, Khan said.

At least six gunmen were involved in firing randomly on the trucks, said another police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Last week, police said suspected militants fatally shot an apple trader and injured another in the same area. A migrant laborer who worked at a brick kiln was also shot dead.

Kashmir's apple orchards provide a livelihood for nearly half the region's 8 million people. Apple growers and traders are suffering losses as insurgent groups are putting pressure on traders and drivers to shun the industry to protest India's crackdown.

In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and imposed a strict crackdown, sending in tens of thousands more troops, detaining thousands of people and blocking mobile phones and internet services.

More than two months later, the region remains under a communications blockade. Authorities have restored landline services and some cellphones, but not internet, making it difficult to reach traders outside the region to conduct business.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since British colonialists granted them independence in 1947. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the Himalayan region's control as both claim it in entirety.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents who are fighting for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Islamabad rejects India's charge and says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris.

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