SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Anti-India protesters clashed with Indian government forces near a village in Kashmir where four rebels were killed in a gunbattle, as assailants fatally shot a village official elsewhere in the disputed region, officials said Monday.
Earlier Monday, Indian soldiers laid a siege around a village in Kashmir’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.
No casualties were immediately reported in those clashes.
The gunbattle came hours after Indian troops killed five militants in the same area, also triggering fierce clashes with villagers.
Later Monday, assailants fatally shot an elected village official in the outskirts of southern Anantnag, police said. The slain person was a member of India’s opposition Congress party and was a minority Kashmiri Hindu, called Pandits. Most citizens of Kashmir are Muslims.
Police called it a “terror crime” and blamed militants for the killing, the second of a non-combatant in three days in the region.
Violence has escalated in Kashmir in recent months as India has stepped up its counterinsurgency operations. Militants 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.
India and Pakistan both claim the territory in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the anti-India rebels. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.