3 people killed, 17 wounded after troops open fire on anti-India protesters in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government forces fired on protesters hurling stones at them in Indian Kashmir on Monday, killing three people and wounding at least 17 other demonstrators, police said.

For the last three months, the mostly Muslim Kashmir region has been roiled by demonstrations and clashes between protesters opposed to Indian rule and government forces. The deaths bring to 68 the number of people killed in the civil unrest.

Three people, including a 17-year-old boy, were killed when government forces fired live ammunition to disperse protesters in Palhalan, a village north of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's main city, said a police officer. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to the media.

Local residents said there was no clash with the troops, but soldiers fired when the protesters refused to disperse. The state government has ordered a probe into the shooting incident.

"A clash had occurred near a highway in the morning and much after that we were peacefully protesting in the village," said resident Meraj-ud-Din.

Later, as news of the shooting spread, thousands of people from Palhalan and neighboring villages chanting "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom" marched to a nearby highway and blocked it.

Police and paramilitary soldiers fired warning shots and tear gas to quell those protests, said the officer. There were no reports of injuries.

Police launched a probe into Monday's shooting. "Senior police officers have taken a serious view of the firing. Ammunition of the policemen is being checked to fix the responsibility," an official statement said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The recent civil unrest is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule in Kashmir sparked an armed conflict that has so far killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.

Meanwhile, an Indian army spokesman said Monday that three suspected rebels were killed in an exchange of gunfire in a remote forest in northern Handwara district of Kashmir.

No casualties were reported among the Indian soldiers, Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said in Srinagar.

There was no independent confirmation of the army's claim.