5 dead in Kashmir standoff between Indian forces and rebels

AP News
Posted: Feb 21, 2016 5:37 AM
5 dead in Kashmir standoff between Indian forces and rebels

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A handful of rebels holed up in a building in the Indian portion of Kashmir exchanged fire with government forces for the second straight day Sunday, raising the number of dead to four soldiers and one civilian. Another 13 paramilitary troops have been wounded in the standoff.

The rebels, numbering two to three, fired guns and grenades early Sunday as Indian commandos tried to storm the government building where they have been hiding since Saturday, said paramilitary spokesman Bhavesh Chaudhary.

The latest firing killed an army captain and a soldier belonging to the army's special forces and injured four paramilitary soldiers, said army spokesman Col. Nitin N. Joshi. Two paramilitary soldiers and one civilian were killed Saturday and nine paramilitary troops were hospitalized.

As an intense gunbattle raged between security forces and the insurgents, a portion of the five-story government building caught fire.

The standoff started Saturday when the militants fired automatic rifles as they ambushed a convoy of Indian paramilitary soldiers before taking refuge in the nearby government building. They allowed more than 100 civilian government employees to leave the building without any harm.

Anti-India protests and clashes broke out Sunday in several neighborhoods in the saffron-rich Pampore area, where the militants are holed up.

Witnesses and officials said hundreds of youths, chanting "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom," ignored the appeals from police to stay away from the site of the gunbattle and hurled rocks at police and paramilitary soldiers.

Government troops fired tear gas and pellet guns to disperse the protesters. At least three protesters were hospitalized with wounds from pellet guns, police said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for either independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.

India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. The two rivals have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.