Two Indian soldiers and three rebels have been killed in a fierce gun battle in Kashmir, the latest bloodshed in the disputed Himalayan territory.
Hundreds of Indian soldiers surrounded Awneera, a village about 50km south of the main city of Srinagar, on Saturday night following a tip-off about fighters in the area, AFP news agency reported.
Kashmiri Police Chief Muneer Khan told Al Jazeera that fighting took place in the Shopian area.
“We laid the cordon yesterday evening after we received information about the presence of five militants,” he said, adding: “In the morning we were able to recover three bodies.”
Khan said the three fighters belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen group and were from nearby villages.
Three Indian soldiers were also wounded in the fighting, Khan said.
As news of the rebels’ deaths spread, hundreds of residents from neighbouring villages took to the streets in protest, throwing stones at soldiers and chanting slogans against Indian rule. About a dozen villagers were injured.
“People tried to march towards the site of the gunfight yesterday but there was a strong cordon,” said 29-year-old Irshad Ahmed.
“Today when the encounter ended, clashes (between police and protesters) started and many people suffered bullet and pellet injuries,” Ahmed, a resident of the village of Awneera, added.
“People from all the adjoining villages came to protest the (killings) because they are all from the same district. How long can we bear this bloodshed, they are killing our brothers,” he said.
Those wounded in the clashes were taken to a nearby hospital.
In a separate incident early Sunday rebels opened fire on an army convoy in the northern area of Hajin and wounded two police officers and a soldier, said Khan.
On Saturday a civilian and a soldier were killed in gunfire between Indian and Pakistan soldiers along the heavily militarised de facto border splitting the disputed territory.
Officials say at least 130 rebels and 39 soldiers have died in clashes so far this year after the Indian army launched a major operation against rebels in the southern part of the region.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full.
Rebel groups have fought since 1989 in Indian Kashmir, demanding independence or its merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed.
Additional reporting by Rifat Fareed in Kashmir
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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies