At least 16 people were killed in Indian Kashmir in some of the fiercest fighting this year, police said Sunday, as authorities braced for more violence.
Three Indian soldiers and at least 11 suspected militants died in several clashes south of Srinagar, the main city of the region divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both.
— ANI (@ANI) April 1, 2018
Police said that seven of the militants killed belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen, one was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the identity of the remainder had not been ascertained, The Indian Express reported.
At least two civilians were also killed and dozens injured when police opened fire on thousands of demonstrators who poured onto the streets, throwing stones and chanting slogans against Indian rule. The Associated Press reported four civilians were killed.
There were also demonstrations in Srinagar, where authorities ordered all schools shut on Monday as rebel groups called for protests.
Officials said mobile internet services were suspended in the Kashmir Valley today as a precautionary measure, PTI reported.
Seven of the militants were killed along with two soldiers in a protracted shootout in the village of Dragad, where helicopters were seen swooping low over the battle zone.
“In Dragad, seven bodies of militants were recovered including top commanders. They were killed in a gun battle,” the director general of the state police Shesh Paul Vaid Reuters reported.
Another man, described by Indian authorities as a militant, was gunned down in a brief exchange of fire in Dialgam.
Security forces were still taking fire from gunmen in the village of Kachdora, where one soldier and three insurgents had been killed, Vaid told AFP.
“It is a massive operation. The fight is still on,” inspector-general of police Swayam Prakash Pani told AFP.
Vaid later tweeted that 12 militants had been “neutralised” and that four civilians had been killed.
Encounter concluded. One more terrorist body recovered from Shopian encounter site. In all 12 terrorists neutralised (one more being ascertained), 3 soldiers martyred and 1 terrorist caught alive. It’s unfortunate that stone pelting around encounter site cost 4 civilian deaths. https://t.co/1hD4qPid45
— Shesh Paul Vaid (@spvaid) April 1, 2018
Many civilians in Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – support rebels who have been fighting for decades for independence or for a merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have died.
Pakistan – which has fought three wars with India over control of Kashmir – condemned the violence as a “mindless killing spree” and said those slaughtered were innocents.
“Such cowardly actions of the occupying forces only serve to fortify the resolve of the Kashmiri people,” its foreign office said in a statement Sunday.
Last year was the deadliest of this decade in the region, with more than 200 alleged militants killed in a counter-insurgency offensive dubbed “Operation All Out.”
That upsurge in violence has escalated in 2018, with 49 militants already killed this year.
The weekend clashes were the worst since a three-day skirmish in the forests of northern Kashmir last month left ten dead – five unidentified militants and five government forces.
Kashmir has been divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
With reporting from AFP