A fresh cycle of violence erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday after three civilians were killed when police fired shots at anti-government protesters.
Also on Friday, suspected militants ambushed a police patrol in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, killing six policemen, officials said.
The suspected militants disfigured the faces of the six policemen before walking away with their weapons, officials said, adding that the attackers were likely members of Pakistan-based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Separatist leaders spearheading protests against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region called for a complete shutdown on Saturday to protest the civilian killings.
Mohammad Ashraf, 22, and Ehsan Ahmad, 20, were killed when security forces opened fire to disperse stone-hurling protesters, who had poured out on the streets of Anantnag district to help three suspected militants escape from a village where they were holed up, police said.
“Junaid Mattoo, a prominent LeT militant, and his two associates are trapped in a tight cordon. Intermittent exchange of firing between the militants and security forces has been continuing since this morning,” S.P. Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, told BenarNews on Friday.
Additional police reinforcement has been rushed to the district’s Arwani village, where the firefight was ongoing as of late Friday, he said.
“All exit routes have been sealed to ensure that the militants do not manage to escape,” Vaid said, adding the encounter might last longer due to “recurring clashes between security forces and protesters.”
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has killed 70,000 people since the late 1980s.
Several rebel groups have spent decades clashing with Indian soldiers deployed in the disputed territory, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.
On Friday, another civilian – Nasir Ahmad, 24 – who was critically wounded when police fired shots during separate anti-government protests in Srinagar a day before, succumbed to his injuries.
The civilian killings triggered widespread protests across the region. At least 25 protesters and six policemen were injured during these street clashes, police sources said.
Meanwhile, police said they had blown up two houses adjoining the house where the suspected LeT militants are believed to be holed up.
“At this moment it is difficult to confirm if the militants have been killed or not,” a police official from Anantnag district told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
However, local media said that the militants had been killed.
“Matoo, believed to be active in south Kashmir for (the past several) years has been killed in (the) ongoing encounter. Matoo carried a bounty of 1 million rupees (U.S. $15,500) on his head,” news agency ANI said, quoting unnamed officials.
On Thursday, suspected militants also fired at a police party on the outskirts of Srinagar, killing one policeman and injuring another. The attack came a day after another policeman was shot dead by suspected militants in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district and at least 13 paramilitary soldiers were injured in a series of grenade attacks.