SRINAGAR: Government forces in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) alleged that they had killed a top commander of a ‘militant’ group after a fierce gunfight in the disputed region Saturday that sparked violent protests.
The gunfight is the latest in a string of deadly shootouts between Indian forces and suspected insurgents during an upsurge in violence in restive Kashmir, where local groups have for years demanded that the region be given independence or merged with Pakistan.
The suspected commander, named as Waseem Shah of the pro-Pakistan militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was killed after soldiers and special police forces acting on a tip off surrounded the southern village of Litter.
“In the ensuing gun battle, the LeT commander and his bodyguard were killed,” a police officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hundreds of local people took to the streets as news of the deaths spread, with some protesters pelting government forces with stones and shouting slogans for Kashmir’s independence from Indian rule.
Security forces responded with gunfire that left one dead.
“One man died on way to hospital after he was hit with a bullet,” another police officer said, adding that at least 15 others were wounded during the clashes.
Kashmir has been divided between rivals India and Pakistan since 1947, which both claim the region in full.
Rebels groups including LeT have been fighting for decades against Indian soldiers deployed in the territory. The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.
Hours after Saturday’s gunbattle suspected rebels attacked a police convoy in the southern Kulgam area, leaving one policeman dead.
“Reportedly three militants attacked. We retaliated. Our driver received a hit and later succumbed to injuries,” Inspector General of police, Munir Ahmed Khan told AFP.
The area was cordoned off as authorities searched for the attackers, Khan said.
Earlier this year the Indian army launched an offensive dubbed “Operation Allout” to hunt down anti-India militants.
At least 166 militants and 59 security personnel have died so far this year.
India maintains presence of roughly 500,000 soldiers in its controlled part of Kashmir, deployed in villages and towns as well as along its de facto border with Pakistan.__The Nation