Five suspected rebels have been killed by Indian forces in the southern district Indian-administered Kashmir, a day after a gunfight in the region triggered protests following the allegations of civilians being used as “human shields” by Indian armed forces.
The five were killed in two separate operations in the Kulgam district on Wednesday.
Police officials said that after a tip-off about the presence of rebels in the Pombay and Gopalpora villages in south Kashmir, a cordon was laid by the armed forces ensuing into a gun battle.
Officials said two rebels were killed in Gopalpora village. One of those slain was identified as Afaq Sikander, the commander of newly surfaced The Resistance Group (TRF), an armed group that officials have said is behind the recent spate of targeted killings of migrants and Hindus in the region.
In a separate gun battle in Pombay village, officials said that three rebels were killed.
Tensions have been high in Indian-administered Kashmir since Monday, when officials claimed that two suspected rebels were killed in Hyderpora locality in the region’s main city of Srinagar.
Two civilians were also killed in the “crossfire”, police said.
Witnesses and families of those killed have disputed police claims. At least two families alleged that those killed were used as “human shields” by the Indian forces.
The families have launched an indefinite sit-in in the city centre, braving the freezing weather to demand the return of the civilians’ bodies.
All four killed in the Hyderpora incident were buried in an undisclosed graveyard in the frontier Kupwara district in north Kashmir.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both sides claiming the region in its entirety but governing parts of the region.
An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule on the Indian side began in 1989, with rebels demanding either the region’s merger with Pakistan or independence.
The conflict intensified after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped the region’s limited autonomy in August 2019 and split it into two federally run territories while also imposing a crippling lockdown.
The lockdown was followed by a crackdown on hundreds of Kashmiri leaders, activists, lawyers and youths who were detained and imprisoned.
The recent increase in violence came amid a series of civilian killings by suspected rebels where the targets have mostly been local Hindus and migrant workers.
Since last month, at least 54 people, including 15 civilians, 29 suspected rebels and 10 soldiers, have been killed in the region.
The authorities have deployed 5,500 additional paramilitary troopers in the region to strengthen the security.