Five rebels, two army soldiers and two civilians killed during two gun battles in India-administered Kashmir sparking anti-India protests, officials and residents say. Locals say one of the civilians was used as "human shield" by Indian troops.

People carry the body of Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a rebel fighter, during his funeral after he was killed in a gun battle with Indian troops, in Karimabad village in south Kashmir's Pulwama district May 16, 2019.
People carry the body of Naseer Ahmad Pandit, a rebel fighter, during his funeral after he was killed in a gun battle with Indian troops, in Karimabad village in south Kashmir's Pulwama district May 16, 2019. (Reuters)

Indian troops and rebels clashed in two separate gun battles in India-administered Kashmir on Thursday, leaving five rebels, two government soldiers and two civilians dead, and triggering anti-India protests, officials and residents said.

The first gun battle broke out in a neighborhood in southern Pulwama town as police and soldiers scoured the area looking for rebels, said Col Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman. He said as troops began conducting searches, they came under heavy gunfire, leading to a clash that killed three rebel fighters and a soldier.

A civilian was also killed and his brother was wounded during the fighting, police said. Two soldiers were also injured.

Indian army behind 'human shield'? 

Locals said Indian troops used residents as "human shield" and damaged one civilian home with explosives.

Villagers said a civilian, who they identified as Rayees Ahmad Dar, 32, was killed after Indian soldiers sent him to search a house where rebels were believed to be hiding. 

Villagers in the area have complained before about the Indian army using civilians in searches.

A police spokesman said Dar was killed in indiscriminate firing by the rebels and denied he had been sent on a search.

After the clash, villagers threw rocks at security forces, who responded with teargas, while lawyers in the state's high court went on strike in protest over Dar's death.

The fighting sparked protests and clashes as hundreds of residents tried to march to the site of the battle in solidarity with the rebels despite the security lockdown in the area.

Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at protesters, who threw stones at them. No one was immediately reported injured in the street clashes.

Kashmiri women shout pro-freedom slogans as they participate in funeral procession of top rebel commander Naseer Pandith, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Thursday, May 16, 2019.
Kashmiri women shout pro-freedom slogans as they participate in funeral procession of top rebel commander Naseer Pandith, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (AP)

Second gun battle 

In the second gun battle, also in southern Kashmir, government forces launched a search operation in a village near Shopian town following a tip that rebels were hiding there, police said. As the troops surrounded a civilian house, rebels reportedly came out while firing at them and tried to take refuge in a nearby apple orchard.

In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, two rebels, a civilian and a soldier were killed, police and residents said. 

Earlier, police had said three militants were killed. However, one of the slain people turned out to be a local resident, residents said. Police maintained that he was an “active associate” of the rebels but acknowledged he was not an underground militant.

Bloodshed in Ramadan 

Meanwhile, the Joint Resistance Leadership, composed of three top pro-Pakistan and pro-independence leaders who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir, called for a protest strike on Friday, saying there has been no letup in the bloodshed even in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan "as civilians, armed youth or even Indian forces are getting killed."

"In one manner or the other, Kashmiris continue to pay the price of the unresolved Kashmir issue," they said in a statement. "Use of force against them continues unabated."

India and Pakistan each claim the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989.

Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

About 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.

Source: Reuters