SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Rebels fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir ambushed a police patrol on Friday, killing two officers, while two militants and an Indian soldier died in a separate gunfight in the disputed region, police said.
A police officer said rebels fired automatic weapons at the police patrol in southern Kulgam town.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy, said two policemen were killed and another was critically wounded.
Government forces cordoned off the area to hunt for the attackers, he said.
Also Friday, soldiers and counterinsurgency police raided Naidkhai village on a tip and engaged militants in a gunbattle in which two militants and a soldier died, officials said.
Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, said two automatic rifles and ammunition were recovered from the village.
After the clash, hundreds of villagers took to the streets to protest against Indian rule, chanting slogans like "We want freedom" and "Go India, go back."
The villagers demanded that police the return of the bodies of the two militants for burial.
Tensions have risen sharply along the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
Government forces took extra security measures as authorities allowed Friday prayers for the first time in more than four months at the main mosque, Jamia Masjid, in downtown Srinagar city.
Authorities sealed neighborhoods in downtown Srinagar to stop large crowds from gathering and holding anti-India protests.
Government forces have prevented worshippers from offering Friday prayers at large mosques for the past 19 weeks amid the biggest protests against Indian rule in recent years, sparked by the killing in July of a popular rebel commander by Indian soldiers.
At least 90 civilians and two policemen have been killed and thousands injured in the protests. Hundreds of the injured have been blinded and maimed, mostly by government forces firing bullets and shotgun pellets at rock-throwing protesters. Curfews, communication blackouts, crackdowns and separatist-sponsored strikes have largely paralyzed public life.
India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for either independence or a merger with Pakistan. Since then, more than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.