'Toy' shell blast kills girl, 9, in Indian-held Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India - A nine-year-old girl has been killed and her younger brother seriously wounded in Indian-held Kashmir after an unexploded artillery shell left behind by the Indian Army went off near their home.

The incident happened in Drang village in the center of the region, a few kilometers away from the Tosa Maidan meadow which the Indian Army and Air Force has been using as a firing range over the past five decades.

More than 70 people have been killed and hundreds more disabled through left-over shells exploding, according to government figures.

Simran Riyaz, nine, was killed and her four-year-old brother, Fayaz Ahmad, was critically wounded after the shell went off near their house when they touched it, thinking it was a toy.

The shell exploded and killed the girl on the spot while her brother’s body was ripped through by fragments.

He was rushed to a hospital close to their house in Khaag, 40 kilometers from the capital, Srinagar.

- Shock and anger

“His legs are totally ripped off and he is in a very fragile condition,” Javaid Ahmad Malik, a resident of the village who carried the children to the hospital, told the Anadolu Agency.

Malik said that the whole village was in a state of shock and anger.

The police have registered the case and launched an investigation.

The explosive device may have been left unnoticed during practice by the Indian Army on the firing range in Budgam district, according to police sources.

The village, along with more than 40 others, lies just below Tosa Maidan - one of Kashmir’s largest meadows which the Indian Army and Air Force has used as a firing range for its heavy artillery since 1964.

In April 2014, the lease allowing the 3,000-acre meadow to be used for military practice came to an end, and although the army has sought an extension, large protests by local people and the election season stopped the government from extending it.

- Government under pressure

The death is the first from unexploded shells this year and is likely to add more pressure on the pro-Indian government to block a lease extension to the Indian Army.

The Army has asked for a different site to be provided for use as a firing range, but wanted to continue at Tosa Maidan in the meantime.

Bilal Ahmad, a neighbor of the deceased girl, said: “It is impossible now that we will let the army back here."

"If they can kill our children like this, we will all stand in front of their guns and then we will see how they shoot."

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.

The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of which were fought over Kashmir since it was partitioned in 1947.

Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far.

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