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People carry the body of Syed Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir daily newspaper, who was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his office in Srinagar, June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead a prominent newspaper editor and two security guards in India's Kashmir on Thursday, police said.

Syed Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, was leaving his office in the city centre of Srinagar when he was shot by three assailants on motorbikes, Senior Superintendent of Police Imtiyaz Ismail told Reuters.

Bukhari, who was given police protection following an attack on him 18 years ago, was hit by multiple bullets fired at a close range, Ismail said. There was no immediate word from police on the identity or possible motive of the gunmen.

Bukhari had been a strong advocate of peace in disputed Kashmir, at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the Muslim majority region.

India had suspended operations against militants fighting its rule in Kashmir during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan which began last month, after weeks of sporadic violence there.

Waseem Ahmad, a local journalist, told Reuters that he heard gunfire ringing out and, reaching the location, found Bukhari and his two guards lying in a pool of blood in their car.

"Extremely shocking news," said Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who broke down in front of cameras.

"Terrorism has hit a new low with Shujaat's killing," Mufti said on Twitter. "We must unite against forces seeking to undermine our attempts to restore peace. Justice will be done."

Bukhari had been part of India's delegation for informal peace talks on Kashmir with Pakistani representatives held in Dubai last year. He was instrumental in organising several conferences for Kashmir peace.

Condemnation of his killing in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, and condolences poured in from across the country.

Calling Bukhari a fearless journalist, Indian Interior Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter the killing was an act of cowardice and "an attempt to silence the saner voices of Kashmir".

More than 130 people have been killed this year in militant violence in Kashmir.

"Forces inimical to restoring peace in the Kashmir valley have silenced a voice of reason, logic and peace," the Press Club of India said in a statement, mourning the loss of Bukhari.

India has long accused Pakistan of training and arming militants and helping them infiltrate across the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two sides in the region, a charge Islamabad denies.

The attack on Bukhari coincided with discussions being held over an extension of a ceasefire by security forces in Kashmir.

Earlier, India rejected a U.N. report that accused it of having used excessive force in disputed Kashmir to kill and wound civilians since 2016, and which called for an international inquiry into accusations of rights violations.

(Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Reuters