Church officials in India's Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state want the government to initiate dialogue with separatists to help avoid a further escalation of violence in the crisis-hit region. Two priests spoke to ucanews.com following the March 4 shutdown of the town of Tral by Indian security forces to prevent protests after two suspected militants were killed. Anger over the killings sparked riots in local villages, according to a Kashmir Times report
. Father Saiju Chacko, a parish priest and Caritas director, said the government must initiate a dialogue to bring a solution "so that the violence that has been claiming precious lives will cease." In February, 19 people were killed in four separate gun battles between Islamic militants and state forces. The Indian army claimed that the militants were trained by Pakistani forces and infiltrated India as part of a proxy war between the two countries. An internal report published by Kashmir Police in February that warned of the possibility of a "more dangerous repetition of 2016." It highlighted the "lack of preparedness to handle such a crisis on the part of the civil administration and police." At least 90 civilians were killed and over 15,000 injured during a five-month uprising that began July 8, 2016. More than 12,000 were arrested and detained as Indian forces worked against the rebellion. Crowds of people join a funeral procession of a militant who was killed by the Indian army in South Kashmir's Kulgam area on Feb. 12. (Photo by Umer Asif
) The Muslim-majority region has witnessed ongoing violence over the past three decades after a group of Muslims took up arms demanding to free the region from Indian rule and form a separate nation or join with neighboring Pakistan. The two nuclear-powered South Asian rivals have fought at least three wars over Kashmir since they became two independent nations following the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Former union minister Yashwant Sinha, who led a unofficial delegation to the region in December 2016, wanted to "immediately begin" the process of dialogue involving all stakeholders to end the violence. "The issue of Jammu and Kashmir is a political issue and demands a political solution," Sinha's delegation said in a statement. Father Roy Mathew of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, which covers the entire state, said the church is always ready to do its bit to help bring peace to the region. "Being a small population and having limited reach, Christians may not be able to steer the [peace] process on their own. However, we are ready to do whatever is needed to bring back normalcy and will support the dialogue process whenever initiated," Father Roy told ucanews.com. Christians number only some 35,000 of state's 12.5 million people, majority of them Muslims. Catholics are negligible as they from less than 15,000 and are economically and socially week.