SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government forces killed at least five rebels during a gunbattle in disputed Kashmir on Sunday, sparking violent anti-India protests by residents, the Indian army and locals said.
Army soldiers and counterinsurgency police surrounded a village in the southern Shopian area early Sunday following a tip that militants were hiding there, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesperson.
Searches by troops triggered an exchange of gunfire that killed five militants, Kalia said.
The fighting sparked protests and clashes as hundreds of residents tried to march to the site of the battle in solidarity with rebels.
Chanting slogans in favor of the militants and demanding an end to Indian rule over Kashmir, the demonstrators threw stones at police and paramilitary soldiers, who fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to quell the protests. No casualties were immediately reported in the daylong clashes.
Locals said troops destroyed at least one house with explosives, a common anti-militancy tactic employed by Indian troops in Kashmir.
India has stepped up its counterinsurgency operations across Kashmir in recent months during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Militants have also continued their attacks on government forces and alleged informants.
On Saturday night, unidentified assailants barged into a home of a young man in the northwestern Sopore area and shot him dead, according to police, who blamed militants for the killing.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but both countries claim the region in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the anti-India rebels. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.