Indian forces kill armed fighters in Kashmir's main city

At least three fighters killed in gun battle in Srinagar, raising the rebel death toll to more than 30 in past 20 days.

    New Delhi has stepped up military operation in the disputed territory since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown [STR/EPA]
    New Delhi has stepped up military operation in the disputed territory since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown [STR/EPA]

    Three fighters have been killed in a shoot-out with Indian government forces in the heart of Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, police said on Sunday, two days after eight rebels were killed in another gun battle.

    New Delhi has stepped up military operations in the disputed territory since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown was imposed in late March. Indian-administered Kashmir has been under a security lockdown since August last year when the Muslim-majority region's limited autonomy was revoked.

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    The rebels were killed in a firefight in the Zoonimar area of the densely populated old city of Srinagar, a police officer who asked to remain anonymous told AFP news agency. 

    One home was destroyed during the clash.

    This was the second such gun battle in the old city in a week and took the death toll of armed fighters to at least 100 this year. More than 30 rebels have been killed in the past 20 days of this month, according to the local media.

    Rebel groups have fought for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan; they enjoy broad popular support. 

    Just over a month ago, the son of a top pro-independence leader and his associate were killed in the city.

    The May incident - a day-long firefight that saw 15 homes blown up by police and soldiers - was the first armed encounter between rebels and government forces in Srinagar in two years.

    The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989, when armed rebellion erupted against Indian rule.

    India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory also claimed by Pakistan.

    Indian fire kills Pakistani girl

    Meanwhile, local officials and Pakistan's military said Indian troops - backed by artillery and long-range guns - fired on villages along the border in the Pakistani-administered side of the Kashmir region, killing a 13-year-old-girl and wounding her mother and brother.

    In a statement on Sunday, Pakistan's military blamed the Indian army for initiating Saturday night's "unprovoked ceasefire violation" in the villages of Hajipir and Bedori. It said Pakistani troops "effectively responded" to the Indian fire, without elaborating.

    Mortars fired by Indian troops also damaged several homes, according to local media reports and government officials.

    In neighbouring India, local police blamed Pakistani troops for initiating the gunfire, saying Pakistani mortar shelling wounded five civilians on their side of Kashmir.

    Pakistan and India often trade fire in the disputed Himalayan region, with each blaming the other side for initiating the fire. The latest incident comes days after Indian fire killed four villagers in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

    To discuss the latest development, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir will hold an emergency meeting via videoconference on Monday.

    The online meeting will bring together the foreign ministers of the Contact Group member states: Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the OIC said in a statement.

    "The meeting is part of a series of continuous Jammu And Kashmir Contact Group meetings to address the issue," OIC Secretary General Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen was quoted as saying.

    Tensions have soared between Pakistan and India since last August, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government removed Article 30 of the constitution that guaranteed special status to the Muslim-majority region, touching off anger in Indian-controlled Kashmirand in Pakistan. Pakistan wants the changes reversed.

    Since early May, China and Indian troops have been engaged in a standoff on their disputed border in Ladakh region, which was carved out of Kashmir last August. Defence experts say China has objected to New Delhi's decision to change the status of Kashmir.

    India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from British rule in 1947.

    SOURCE: News agencies