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Indian Army Vacates Kashmir Schools, Hospitals

  • Shahnawaz Khan

The Indian Army has left schools and hospitals it had been occupying in Kashmir. Although the move is largely symbolic and no troop reductions in Kashmir are planned at the moment, the transfer has diminished a source of considerable resentment among the local population. Shahnawaz Khan reports from Srinigar.

The move is part of a general look into the deployment of the estimated 750,000 army and paramilitary troops in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formed a panel to study the relocation and possible reduction of forces in the disputed territory.

While many Kashmir residents have called for troop reductions, the quartering of soldiers in schools and hospitals was a separate source of unhappiness. Politicians said the presence of the troops interfered with education and health services.

The buildings were due to be left by the end of this month, but an Indian Army spokesman says the redeployment has already been completed. The troops have been moved to army camps around the region.

Ghulam Hassan Mir is a senior official of the Peoples Democratic Party, an ally of the ruling provincial government. He calls the move a welcome development.

Mir says the occupation of the school and hospital buildings was affecting basic services, and that is why people were demanding the relocation.

Mir says the party also wants troops to leave private property, such as houses, and orchards where barracks have been built.

Khurram Pervez of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in Srinagar says the transfer is an admission the buildings had been occupied at the expense of health and education.

Pervez says health and education policies in Kashmir were held hostage to the presence of the soldiers.

Indian troops in Kashmir include paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force.

Some units are also housed in schools, and one company is living at the University of Kashmir. So far, they have not been transferred.

The panel studying troop deployment has submitted its report to the prime minister, and New Delhi says it is studying it. However, the army has said there will be no reduction in troops in Kashmir for the time being.

Kashmir, on the northern tip of the border between India and Pakistan, is claimed by both nations and divided between them. The countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, and the region is an on-going source of tension between them.