Indian police and troops have killed five suspected rebels in an overnight gun battle in a forested area of Indian-administered Kashmir, triggering anti-India protests by local residents, police said.
Police and an army contingent began a joint operation around midnight on Thursday near the Najwan forests, 35km north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.
“The group of militants was leaving one forest area for another when we intercepted and challenged them. All the five were killed in the ensuing firefight,” a senior police officer, Shahid Meraj told AFP news agency on Friday.
He said all five rebels had come from Pakistan-administered Kashmir around a year earlier and belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri rebel group fighting Indian forces in the region.
Kashmir’s police chief Abdul Gani Mir said soldiers and police launched an operation based on intelligence that a group of rebels were present in the forests.
Mir said the troops suffered no casualties.
According to AFP, hundreds of residents gathered in the area after Friday’s deaths chanting “We want freedom” after the bodies of the five men were handed over to them for burial.
None of the nearly a dozen rebel groups issued a statement on the incident.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by a heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) since the two countries won independence from Britain in 1947.
Both claim the disputed Himalayan territory in full.
Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan that has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.
Although the armed rebellion is largely suppressed, resentment against Indian rule runs deep.
Rebels are threatening an “unprecedented” surge in attacks on Indian targets as fighters from Afghanistan prepare to target the region, according to rebel leaders on the Pakistan side.
During the last two months, the Indian army claims to have killed 28 rebels in various gun battles near the forested areas of northern Kashmir.
In a separate incident on Friday night, the army claimed to have thwarted a bid by an unknown number of rebels to infiltrate from across the LoC in Akhnoor, 340km southwest of Srinagar.
According to the Indian army, attempts by rebels to infiltrate into Indian-administered Kashmir this summer have more than doubled compared to the same period last year.
Tension has been running high along one of the world’s most militarised borders in Kashmir since August 5 when five Indian soldiers were ambushed and killed while on a patrol.
So far six Pakistanis are reported to have been killed in Indian firing across the LoC.