SRINAGAR - Suspected gunmen on Sunday killed two policemen guarding the home of a pro-India politician in Occupied Kashmir in the first such attack in the region since Indian elections got underway.

Two rebels sprayed bullets towards the home of a National Conference politician who was inside meeting party workers in the town of Khrew, 25 kilometers south of the main city of Srinagar, an officer and a party official said.

“The two policemen died before reaching hospital,” the officer at the scene told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The attack sparked a gunbattle with government forces on patrol in the area that left both of the attackers dead, the officer said. Yawar Masoodi, a youth leader of the National Conference which rules at state level in the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region, and the party workers were unharmed.

The militants fled into nearby mustard fields after snatching the police officers’ weapons. Government forces chased them, sparking the gunbattle as reinforcements from a nearby army camp also moved in, the officer said.

“Both the attackers were later neutralised and the snatched weapons also recovered,” Inspector General Nalin Prabhat from the federal Central Reserve Police Force told AFP. At the time, Masoodi was in a “closed door meeting” with party workers discussing election campaign plans, said National Conference spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu.

“These two individuals arrived at the gate. On being stopped for frisking by the police guards they suddenly took out weapons from under their ferans (traditional Kashmiri tunic),” Mattu told AFP.

It is unclear why Masoodi, who is not an elected member of parliament nor standing in the polls, was singled out for attack.

Rebels have long fought for independence or for the merger of the territory with Pakistan. Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, from the National Conference party, said the attack highlighted security concerns for all politicians in the region. The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead in the past 25 years.

“The attack on Yawar’s residence is evidence of the continued risk associated with being a mainstream politician in Kashmir,” Abdullah said on Twitter.

The district in the Kashmir Valley where the attack took place will go to the polls on April 24 as part of India’s mammoth elections that are staggered nationally over six weeks.