Indian forces have killed three suspected rebels in a shoot-out in Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said, triggering anti-India protests and clashes between the troops and residents.
The Indian military on Wednesday said rebels opened fire at soldiers and police as counterinsurgency troops surrounded a neighbourhood in the southern town of Pulwama on a tip that some rebels were hiding there.
Troops retaliated and trapped the rebels in a house, according to a statement by the military. Three fighters were killed in the eight-hour operation and two rifles and a pistol were recovered from the site, the statement said.
Villagers said troops set fire to one house and blasted another with explosives, a common anti-rebel tactic employed by Indian troops in the disputed Himalayan region.
Authorities issued a curfew in Pulwama town and cut off internet access on mobile phone services, a tactic aimed at making organising anti-India protests difficult and discouraging the dissemination of protest videos.
Shortly after the attack, anti-India protesters threw stones at government forces and chanted slogans seeking the end of Indian rule over the region. Government forces fired tear gas at the protesters. No one was reported injured during the clashes.
Locals said government troops detained several people and forced them to sit in front of them as shields during the clashes.
Wednesday’s fighting comes amid a surge in violence in the region, which is divided between India and Pakistan with the nuclear-armed rivals claiming it in its entirety.
Last week, authorities in the region also dismissed 11 Kashmiris from their government jobs for alleged links with rebel groups. They included two sons of a top Kashmiri rebel commander who is based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and two police officials.
Kashmiris have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most people in the Muslim-majority region support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India says the Kashmir rebellion is “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.