Villagers in Indian-administered Kashmir have protested against security forces after at least five rebels were killed and several civilians wounded in two separate gunfights, according to the police.
“The gunfight started in the early morning hours in central Kashmir’s Pakherpora village, 45km from the region’s main city [Srinagar],” Munir Khan, inspector general of police for Jammu and Kashmir state, told Al Jazeera.
The security forces rushed to the area in Budgam district after getting information about the presence of armed rebels, Khan said.
“The encounter is over, and total four militants have been killed in Pakherpora village in central Kashmir. We have been able to recover three bodies so far; the search is going on to recover the body of the fourth militant,” the top police official said.
He said that in a separate encounter in north Kashmir’s Sopore Sagipora village, in Baramulla district, one fighter was killed in a gunfight that also started during the wee hours.
“We are looking for another militant in Sopore; the search is on,” Khan said.
Officials said that the four fighters, one local and three foreigners, belonged to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad armed group.
Soon after the news of gunfight spread, large numbers of people from neighbouring villages took to the streets in protest, throwing stones at soldiers and chanting slogans against Indian rule. Several people were injured in clashes near Pakherpora village.
A teenager was hit in the face by a bullet during the clashes between forces and the protesters. He was rushed to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital in Srinagar where he is being treated, officials said.
“His condition is stable,” medical superintendent of SMHS, Dr Saleem Tak, told Al Jazeera.
Locals from Pakherpora village said that forces fired pellets at the protesters, resulting in injuries to many of them.
Authorities suspended internet service in the whole district to prevent protests from spiralling out of control.
The army has been running a major counterinsurgency operation against rebels this year, particularly in the southern part of the region, which has become a hotbed of armed rebellion following the death of rebel commander Burhan Wani last year.
Following the killing, the region was rocked by one of the most widespread civilian uprisings in the two decades of conflict. Over 100 civilians have been killed and several hundred blinded by pellet guns since July last year.
“By the collective effort of police, Indian army and central reserve police and people of Kashmir have led to neutralisation of more than 200 terrorists in the year 2017 alone,” the Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid tweeted.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years, and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.
Roughly half a million soldiers are stationed in the disputed territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.