Indian troops killed at least eight suspected militants in held Kashmir, triggering a new round of anti-India protests and clashes, officials said on Sunday.
The gun battle in southern Kashmir began overnight after government forces raided two villages following a tip that militants were hiding there, police claimed.
Police officials claimed the militants tried to escape from a security cordon while firing their guns and grenades but were killed in the ensuing fighting.
“Seven militants, including some commanders, were killed in Shopian area while one militant was killed and another captured in Anantnag early on Sunday,” top Indian police officer in the region S.P. Vaid said.
Indian police said a third gunbattle also erupted in Shopian area where several suspected militants were trapped. No rebel group fighting against Indian rule immediately issued any statement about Sunday’s fighting.
As the fighting raged, anti-India protests erupted in several villages in southern Kashmir in solidarity with the militants. Many protesters also tried to march to the gunbattle sites to help the trapped suspected militants escape, leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and government forces who fired shotgun pellets and tear gas.
According to hospital officials and police, at least three dozen civilians were injured in the ongoing clashes.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India militants and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants.
The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that tough action would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed armed attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.
Militants have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country.
Most Kashmiris support the militants’ cause against Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.