SRINAGAR: Five militants have been killed in a firefight in Indian-administered Kashmir, police said Sunday, triggering clashes between locals and government forces in the restive disputed territory.
At least 50 rebels and 23 soldiers have died since April during outbreaks of fighting in the part of Kashmir controlled by New Delhi, and along the de facto border dividing the disputed Himalayan territory between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.
The clash came just a week after two Pakistan embassy officials were expelled by New Delhi over spying allegations.
Officials and locals said the latest bout of violence started after Indian soldiers and counterinsurgency police cordoned off Reban village in the southern Kashmir valley early Sunday on suspicions that armed rebels were hiding in a home.
A firefight broke out during which the five men were killed, army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia told AFP.
A police officer added to AFP that two more rebels were suspected of being trapped inside the cluster of cordoned homes.
Hundreds of villagers gathered on the streets near the firefight, throwing stones at government forces and shouting “Go India, go back”.
Police fired tear gas and metal pellets to disperse the crowd, another police official told AFP on condition of anonymity. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
New Delhi in August revoked the semi-autonomous status of its Jammu and Kashmir state, and imposed a months-long curfew that cut off communications and restricted movement.
The curfew has been eased in recent months, although the region remains affected by the nationwide coronavirus lockdown in India.
Sunday’s fighting came a day after unknown gunmen shot dead a young man in the northern Sopore area. The motive was not known but police blamed rebels for the killing.
Rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have battled for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.
New Delhi regularly accuses arch-rival Pakistan of arming and sending rebels across the heavily militarised border. Islamabad denies the claims.