Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Massive anti-India protests have erupted in the southern villages of Indian-administered Kashmir following the killing of at least eight rebels.
Kashmir police chief Swayam Prakash Pani told Al Jazeera that the rebels were killed in two separate gunfights, while the third gun battle in Shopian’s Kachdora village was still under way.
“So far eight terrorists have been killed. At two villages the fight has ended, while at one village in Shopian it is still going on,” the official said without disclosing the number of rebels, who are still engaged in the fierce battle.
Shesh Paul Vaid, the state police chief, told reporters that the gun battle erupted in southern Kashmir late on Saturday and continued into early Sunday after government forces raided two villages following a tip-off about the presence of rebels.
We tried to persuade them to surrender but they fired, which was retaliated. One terrorist was captured alive,” the official said.
The officials said that among the killed rebels there were several top commanders.
“Encounter also going on in Kachdora, Shopian, some civilians trapped efforts to rescue them on,” Shesh Paul Vaid said on Twitter.
To prevent demonstrations, the authorities have restricted the access to high-speed internet in the region.
Locals told our News reporters that a large number of people from the nearby villages took to streets and marched towards the sites of the fighting to help the rebels escape, which then triggered clashes.
“The forces fired live ammunition at the civilians. Several young people received pellet injuries in their eyes, two people received bullets in front of my eyes,” Manzoor Ahmad, from Shopian told Our reporter by phone.
“Many civilian homes have also been damaged leaving them on roads. How long this bloodshed will continue. We are tired.”
The protests have spread to multiple villages of south Kashmir. According to hospital officials, at least three dozen civilians were injured in the ongoing clashes between stone-throwing young men and the Indian armed forces.
The separatists’ leaders have called for a two-day shutdown to protests the killings in the region.
Hundreds of paramilitary troopers have been rushed to the volatile parts of the region, including the main city of Srinagar, to guard the streets and prevent people from taking part in protests.
The business establishments also observed a spontaneous shutdown in many parts of the city.
Villages in south Kashmir particularly, Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag have become the rebel hotbeds since July 2016 after the killing of young rebel commander Burhan Wani.
Wani’s killing in a gunfight lead to widespread protests in the region for five long months in which more than 100 civilians were killed and hundreds lost their eyes due to the pellet guns fired by forces.
The beginning of this year has been violent, with intermittent gunfights and civilian killings on the international border.
Cross-border shelling between India and Pakistan has intensified since January forcing hundreds of villagers along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between the Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, to flee their homes.
Both the countries accuse each other of targeting the civilian population.
With the fresh tension, it is threatening to put the region in another wave of protests.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the Himalayan territory, which they both claim in its entirety.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian security forces in recent years, and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and many people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule.
Kashmir is one of the most militarised regions in the world, as India has stationed about half a million soldiers in the disputed territory.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the decades-old conflict.