SRINAGAR, India – A 70-year-old civilian was killed and seven people were injured during an anti-India protest that erupted Thursday following a gunbattle that killed three Indian soldiers and two suspected rebels in disputed Kashmir, police said.
A group of militants stormed a military camp close to the heavily militarized Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia said. They hurled grenades and fired automatic weapons at the highly guarded camp in Panzgam, northwest of Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
Two militants were killed in an ensuing gunfight, while another was believed to have escaped, the officer said.
He said three soldiers, including an army officer, were killed and five soldiers were wounded in the attack. The injured soldiers were airlifted to the Indian army's main base in Srinagar for specialized treatment.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident and no rebel group fighting against Indian rule immediately issued any statement.
Scores of villagers assembled outside the army camp in Panzgam in solidarity with the militants and chanted pro-freedom slogans and demanded that the bodies of the slain militants be handed over to them for their last rites, the police officer said.
He said soldiers fired at the protesters after they hurled rocks at an army vehicle leaving the camp. A 70-year-old man was killed and at least seven others wounded in the firing, he said. Villagers said the slain man was not part of the protest and was hit by a bullet in the chest.
In another protest, hundreds of villagers a few kilometers (miles) from the battle took to the streets and hurled rocks at police and paramilitary soldiers, who fired tear gas and warning shots to break up the demonstration. No one was reported injured in those clashes.
India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety. Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed since 1989 in the rebel uprising and subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years. However, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and is now principally expressed through street protests marked by youths hurling stones at government forces.