Anti-India protesters clashed Monday with Indian government forces near a village in disputed Kashmir where four rebels were killed in a gun battle. Earlier Monday Indian soldiers laid a siege around a village in Kahsmir's southern Shopian area on a tip that militants were hiding there, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an army spokesman.
As the soldiers launched search operations, soldiers and militants exchanged gunfire, Kalia said. He said four rebels were killed. Police said three soldiers were wounded. As the fighting raged, hundreds of people marched near the site in solidarity with the rebels and chanted slogans seeking an end to Indian rule over the region. Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters.
The latest gun battle came hours after Indian troops killed five rebels in the same area, also triggering fierce clashes with villagers.
Violence has escalated in Kashmir in recent months as India has stepped up its counterinsurgency operations. Rebel fighters have also continued their attacks on government forces and alleged informants.
More than two dozen militants and about a dozen Indian troops were killed in April, the most in any month since last August, when India revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status and statehood and imposed direct federal rule.
There also has been almost daily fighting over the last several months along the rugged and mountainous frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir has become a bigger source of tension between the two powers since India last August scrapped the Muslim-majority region's semi-autonomous status and imposed a major security clampdown. The region's high-speed internet has been cut off since last August, when India revoked its semi-autonomous status, divided it into two federally ruled territories and imposed a complete lockdown and communications blackout. After the Supreme Court stepped in, the Indian government in January only restored mobile internet services, first in Hindu-dominated Jammu and then in Muslim-majority Kashmir. However, only government-authorized “whitelisted” websites were accessible. Restrictions on social media remained in force until March 4.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir. Shelling across their Kashmir demarcation line is a near-daily occurrence, and in February 2019 they conducted tit-for-tat airstrikes.