SRINAGAR - Unidentified assailants opened fire on a military convoy in Indian-held Kashmir Monday, killing eight soldiers and wounding six others in an attack ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the embattled Himalayan territory.

The soldiers were attacked on the outskirts of Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, army spokesman Colonel Brijesh Pandey told AFP. “We have received 14 casualties from the attack site at the military hospital, eight of them were fatal,” he said, adding that one of the six wounded is in a critical condition.

The attack came amid a high state of alert which had been imposed ahead of Singh’s arrival on Tuesday for a two-day visit to the territory, his first since June 2010.

Security officials had earlier said that police and paramilitary forces were being deployed in strength across the region and additional check points had been erected along major highways.

“A high alert is there. We do face a threat from the elements fighting against the military troops,” Abdul Ghani Mir, Kashmir’s police chief, told AFP.

Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan territory, is divided between India and Pakistan by a UN monitored de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC). More than a dozen armed groups of freedom fighters have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians have died in the fighting but armed violence has been on a steady decline since the early 2000s.

Security concerns were further raised on Saturday when armed fighters struck in a busy commercial area in the heart of Srinagar, killing two policemen in a shoot-and-run incident.

The three main separatist groups opposed to Indian rule have called for a total shutdown for Tuesday to protest the visit of the prime minister.

“This is a protest against the forcible military occupation of Kashmir and we want to give the Indian prime minister this message that by hanging Afzal Guru, New Delhi has sent the entire Kashmiri people to the cross,” Syed Ali Geelani, a top separatist leader said in a statement.

Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was secretly executed and buried inside a high security prison in New Delhi in February for his alleged role in a deadly attack on India’s parliament in 2001.

Four people were killed during a security crackdown against widespread protests over the hanging of Guru, who many people in Kashmir believe was framed.

Officials say a few dozen youth have been detained in police stations to prevent protests during Singh’s visit, but separatist leaders put the figure at hundreds.

Singh, who will be accompanied to Kashmir by the president of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi, is scheduled to inaugurate a section of an ambitious railway project that is expected to link the land-locked Kashmir valley to the massive Indian rail network by 2018.

During a previous visit in 2009, Singh had inaugurated another section of the project and also re-pledged a commitment to an economic reconstruction package worth $4 billion for the embattled state.

However, experts and Indian political leaders have often said that New Delhi needs to extend a political package for dispute resolution.

“The Kashmir issue needs to be addressed politically. Economic packages are not a solution to the issue nor can it be found on the point of a gun,” Kashmir’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, said recently.