Indian troops have killed six separatist fighters in a gun battle in the disputed region of Kashmir, according to the army, taking the death toll for the year to the highest in nearly a decade.
So far this year, 400 people have been killed in Kashmir, India‘s only Muslim majority state, and more than half of them were rebels fighting against the Indian rule. The number of the dead is the highest in the state since 2008 when 505 people were killed.
The number of deaths in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir had dropped to 99 in 2012 but has since been climbing.
The disputed region has witnessed a spike in violence since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014. Analysts say the hardline policies adopted by the Hindu nationalist government may further worsen the situation.
Indian army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said an operation was launched in Sekipora village, around 50km south of Srinagar, the region’s main city, after intelligence reports about the presence of a group of rebels.
“Six militants were killed during a fierce gunfight and arms and ammunition along with their bodies have been recovered,” Kalia told Reuters news agency.
Indian forces have stepped up an offensive against rebels operating inside the Kashmir Valley as well as those trying to intrude from across the border with Pakistan, officials say.
The rebels have hit back, targeting members of the Kashmir police and their families in recent months.
Among the dead was a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The latest crackdown in southern Kashmir, which has been on the boil since the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani, was prompted by the abduction of six people from the area by rebels.
While four were let off, the rebels killed two accusing them of being informers for the Indian security forces. One of them was beheaded, while a video of the assailants pumping bullets into the other went viral on the social media.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir and have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region since 1947.
A military Line of Control (LoC) divides the Indian and Pakistani sides, with India ruling 45 percent of Kashmir and the bulk of its more than 11 million population. Pakistan has about 35 percent of the territory and China controls the rest.