Three Kashmiri rebels were killed in a gunbattle with government forces early Thursday as they tried to break through a security cordon in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, the army said.

Army spokesman Col. Nitin N. Joshi said the fighting started late Wednesday and an intermittent exchange of gunfire continued overnight in the southern town of Tral.

Joshi said the three killed belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen, the region's biggest rebel group fighting against Indian rule.

Hundreds of residents chanting pro-freedom slogans tried to reach the site of the gunbattle in a show of solidarity with the militants. Police fired tear gas late Wednesday and Thursday to disperse them. No injuries were reported in clashes between rock-throwing protesters and government forces.

Security forces allowed thousands of villagers to participate in the funerals of the three insurgents on Thursday amid a shutdown in Tral and neighboring villages, nearly 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Srinagar, the main city in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan, which both rule parts of Kashmir and claim it in its entirety, have fought two wars over control of the region since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

Public opposition to Indian rule remains widespread in the mostly Muslim territory, where rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for independence or merger with Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people have died in the conflict, though incidents of violence have largely been suppressed by Indian forces.