SRINAGAR, India – Three suspected rebels were killed on Sunday in a gunbattle with government forces in disputed Kashmir, triggering violent anti-India protests.
The fighting erupted after troops cordoned off a village in southern Kulgam area on a tip that rebels were hiding there, the Indian military said. The exchange lasted for several hours in which three militants were killed and two soldiers injured, the military said.
Residents said soldiers blasted a civilian home with explosives while fighting the rebels, a common charge by Kashmiris who deeply resent the Indian army's presence.
As the fighting raged, anti-India protesters tried to reach the site of the standoff. They threw stones at government forces hoping to help the trapped rebels escape. Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the protesters, leaving at least 35 injured.
As counterinsurgency police and soldiers hastily left the place after the fighting was over, hundreds of civilians converged on the site. An explosion occurred as people tried to extinguish fire at the blasted house, residents said, killing at least one civilian and wounding five others who were hospitalized in critical condition.
S.P. Pani, a top police officer, said the civilians assembled at the site despite repeated requests to stay away as soldiers were still clearing the area. "Someone from the crowd fiddled with an unexploded explosive substance resulting in the tragic incident," he said.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.