2 rebels killed in Kashmir firefight

SRINAGAR: Kashmiri villagers bring a resident injured by Indian security personnel to the main hospital in Srinagar yesterday. —AFP

SRINAGAR: Two suspected rebels were killed and a civilian was critically wounded in a shootout with government forces in Indian Kashmir yesterday, police said, as tensions in the disputed territory ran high. A police officer was also critically wounded in a separate incident in the Indian-administered part of the disputed Himalayan region, which has seen a spike in violence in recent months. The two militants died in a firefight with soldiers and special police counterinsurgency forces who had cordoned off a neighborhood in the south of the region yesterday. Hundreds of villagers poured out onto the streets to try to help the trapped rebels escape, many throwing stones and shouting slogans against Indian rule.

One was injured when government forces fired into the crowd. “Two militants were killed in the encounter. According to our input one more is still fighting,” director general of police S P Vaid said. Another police officer speaking on condition of anonymity said all three fighters were locals. In a separate incident further south in Anantnag town militants fired at a police party in the local bus stand and critically wounded an officer, Vaid said. “We are evacuating him from the area,” inspector general of police Muneer Ahmed Khan said.

Kashmir has seen a spike in violence since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in late May, with 56 people killed in almost daily clashes. Last week stone-throwing protesters clashed with government forces in the main city of Srinagar. Less than two weeks ago, a senior police officer was beaten to death by a crowd outside one Srinagar mosque. Kashmir has been divided between rivals India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but both claim it in full. Rebel groups have for decades fought roughly 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or a merger of the region with Pakistan.

The conflict has left tens of thousands dead since 1989, mostly civilians. Tensions are expected to escalate further ahead of the first anniversary on Saturday of the popular rebel leader Burhan Wani who was killed by security forces. Officials say dozens of local youths have joined the rebel ranks since his death, and armed encounters have become more frequent. The killing provoked a huge outpouring of public anger in Indian administered Kashmir that has drawn a growing number of civilians into the conflict, with entire communities coming out to help the rebels and attack government forces.- AFP

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