Indian forces kill 3 rebels in Kashmir; 35 civilians injured

Government forces killed three rebels in a gunbattle in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir while 35 civilians were injured in anti-India protests and clashes in solidarity with militants, police and witnesses said Tuesday.

The 24-hour long fighting erupted Monday after soldiers and counterinsurgency police raided southern Bahmnoo village on a tip rebels were hiding there, police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan said.

Witnesses said the fighting ended Tuesday morning after troops blasted and destroyed four homes during the fighting.

Khan said soldiers were searching for the body of a fourth militant in the debris.

At least six police and soldiers were injured in the fighting.

The gunfight triggered intense clashes after hundreds of civilians marched near the site to help the trapped militants escape.

Government forces fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the march by rock-throwing protesters who were chanted slogans such as "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom."

At least 35 civilians were injured, including five with bullet wounds.

On Tuesday, anti-India protests and clashes spread to at least three other areas in volatile southern Kashmir. Reports said hundreds of men and women threw rocks after government forces fired tear gas shells to stop the demonstrators from conducting protest marches.

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.

India and Pakistan control 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.