By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR (Reuters) - A senior police officer has been arrested in Indian Kashmir and accused of aiding militants after he was found driving two suspected insurgents toward Jammu, Kashmir's chief of police told reporters on Sunday.
The Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has been in turmoil since New Delhi announced in August that it would strip the territory of its long-held autonomy and statehood.
Arguing that special provisions for the region had hindered its development and fueled separatism, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government separated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federally-controlled territories at the end of October.
The police officer, Divinder Singh, was arrested on Saturday along with two suspected militants, police chief Vijay Kumar said.
He named one of those Singh was arrested with as Naveed Mushtaq. Police officers have said previously they believe Mushtaq was involved in the killing of 11 apple traders, drivers and laborers last year.
"We have registered a case against (Singh) under the arms, explosives and unlawful activities acts," Kumar said. "It is a sensitive case and we don't want any loopholes," he added, saying that Singh would be treated as a militant and jointly interrogated by all the intelligence agencies.
Reuters was unable to contact Singh, Mushtaq or their representatives for comment.
It is unusual for a serving police officer to be accused of involvement in Kashmir's 30-year insurgency.
Singh has played an active role in anti-militancy operations in Kashmir for which he received a gallantry award in 2019. It was not immediately clear how or why he came to be traveling with the suspected insurgents.
Mushtaq, who was arrested with Singh, was also a member of the Jammu and Kashmir police until 2017, two senior police officers told Reuters on Sunday.
In a separate incident, three members of the Hizbul Mujahideen group, including their top commander, Hamad Khan, were killed in a gun battle in Kashmir on Sunday, Kumar said.
The Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest groups fighting against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
"On specific information about presence of militants in the village, we cordoned off the area and asked them to surrender. They refused...and fired on troops, leading to a gun battle in which they were killed," said Kumar, adding that the incident took place in southern Kashmir's Tral area.
The Hizbul Mujahideen group have not publicaly commented and could not be reached by Reuters.
(Writing by Aditi Shah; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)