A top rebel commander was killed by Indian government forces in Indian-administered Kashmir’s main city, authorities have said, triggering anti-India protests in the disputed region.
The dead commander, Saifullah Mir, was the chief of operations of the region’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which for decades has spearheaded an armed campaign against Indian rule.
Kashmir Inspector-General of Police Vijay Kumar said security forces launched an operation of Sunday, acting on intelligence about the presence of Mir in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the regional capital, Srinagar.
He said a gun battle ensued in which the commander was killed and his suspected associate was captured.
“It is a major success for the security forces’ fight against militancy in the region,” Kumar said.
There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels about the killing.
Shortly after the gun battle, anti-India protests broke out in the neighbourhood. Police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to stop scores of stone-throwing young men from marching in the area.
The protesters were chanting slogans including “We want freedom” and “Go India, go back”. No one was reported wounded in the clashes.
According to officials, Mir joined the rebels’ ranks in 2014 and took charge of the Hizbul Mujahideen as its top operations commander after Indian troops killed his predecessor Riyaz Naikoo in May.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full but administer separate portions of it, divided by a Line of Control, across which a tenuous ceasefire has been in place since 2003.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India says rebellion in Kashmir is sponsored by its western neighbour. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.