SRINAGAR, India (AP) — At least eight rebels have been killed in fighting with Indian troops in disputed Kashmir, triggering a new round of anti-India protests and clashes, officials said Sunday.
The gunbattles in southern Kashmir began overnight after government forces raided two villages following a tip that rebels were hiding there and came under fire, police said.
Police said the militants tried to escape from a security cordon while firing their guns and grenades but were killed in the ensuing fighting.
Seven militants, including some commanders, were killed in Shopian area while one rebel was killed and another captured in Anantnag early Sunday, said top police officer S.P. Vaid.
Police said a third gunbattle also erupted in Shopian area where several rebels were trapped.
No rebel group fighting against Indian rule immediately issued any statement about Sunday’s fighting.
As the fighting raged, anti-India protests erupted in several villages in southern Kashmir in solidarity with the rebels.
Many protesters also tried to march to the gunbattle sites to help the trapped militants escape, leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and government forces who fired shotgun pellets and tear gas.
According to hospital officials and police, at least three dozen civilians were injured in the ongoing clashes.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants.
The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that tough action would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.