Eight dead in fighting between rebels and Indian forces in disputed Kashmir
- Three rebels and at least five civilians killed in gun battle, explosion in restive region
Three suspected rebels were killed in a gun battle with Indian government forces in disputed Kashmir on Sunday, and at least five civilians were killed in an explosion at the site after the fighting was over, officials and residents said.
The fighting erupted after troops cordoned off a village in the southern Kulgam area on a tip that rebels were hiding there, India’s military said. The exchange lasted for several hours in which three militants were killed and two soldiers injured, it said.
Residents said soldiers blasted a civilian home with explosives while fighting the rebels, a common charge by Kashmiris who deeply resent the Indian army’s presence.
As the fighting raged, anti-India protesters tried to reach the site of the stand-off. They threw stones at government forces hoping to help the trapped rebels escape. Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the protesters, leaving at least 35 injured.
As counter-insurgency police and soldiers hastily left the place after the fighting was over, hundreds of civilians converged on the site. An explosion occurred as people tried to extinguish a fire at the blasted house, residents said, killing at least one civilian and wounding seven others who were taken to hospital in critical condition. Four other civilians died at a hospital.
S.P. Pani, a top police officer, said the civilians assembled at the site despite repeated requests to stay away as soldiers were still clearing the area. “Someone from the crowd fiddled with an unexploded explosive substance, resulting in the tragic incident,” he said.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also taking part in civilian street protests against Indian control.
In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.