SRINAGAR, India – A woman and a young man were killed and several other people injured during anti-India protests and clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday following a counterinsurgency operation by government forces that killed two rebels in the disputed region, police said.
Indian troops came under fire from militants as soldiers laid a cordon around the southern village of Dialgam following a tip that rebels were hiding there, said senior police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan.
After a brief exchange of fire, militants took refuge inside a home where civilians, including women, were also trapped, Khan said. He said that the woman was killed in the crossfire.
However, locals said that several men and women rushed to the house where the militants took shelter and asked soldiers to give them safe passage. The residents said troops were not letting some of the women leave.
A police statement accused militants of holding civilians as human shields.
Shortly after over a dozen civilians came out of the house, a gunbattle erupted in which two militants were killed, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
S.P. Vaid, the region's police chief, said one of the dead militants was a top commander involved in the ambush of a police party last month in which six officers were killed.
Earlier, as news of the siege spread, hundreds of people from Dialgam and neighboring villages broke the security lockdown and marched near the site in solidarity with the rebels while demanding an end to Indian rule over the region.
Intense clashes erupted in and around the village as locals threw rocks at the troops, who fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to quell the spiraling protests.
A young man was killed and at least 16 people were injured in the clashes.
Authorities snapped internet and cellphone services in some parts of southern Kashmir following the fighting.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that "tough action" would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the region's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight the armed rebellion.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.