Reuters International

By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Three Indian policemen were shot dead at point-blank range on Monday in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, in the first such attacks in almost three years, a senior police officer said.

The attacks followed a weekend shootout in north Kashmir in which five militants and one Indian soldier were killed, taking to 44 the total number of separatist fighters killed this year in India's most northerly region.

The spike in violence comes against a backdrop of rising social tension and separatist sentiment in the Muslim-majority region, which for decades has been at the centre of a strategic tussle between India and Pakistan.

The three policemen were killed in two separate attacks in Srinagar, police official Ghulam Hassan Bhat told Reuters, with two killed in the Zadibal quarter of the city.

"The militants fired at these cops from point-blank range, leaving them in a pool of blood," said Bhat, a deputy inspector general of police in the region.

The assailants in the second attack shot dead the security guard of a political leader, also at point-blank range, and took his rifle.

The attacks came two days after Indian troops killed five militants from Pakistan-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Kupwara district bordering Pakistan. One soldier succumbed to wounds suffered in the gun battle.

The number of militants sneaking across the de facto border between India and Pakistan has increased this year, helped by an early summer and a lack of winter snows in the mountainous region, a senior army officer said.

"As compared to last year the infiltration is on the higher side," said Brigadier Rajeev Puri, of the Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army, estimating that around 225 militants were active in the Kashmir Valley.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, each controlling part of the territory but claiming it in full. The Line of Control, or de facto border, runs along the lines of a ceasefire reached in 1948.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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