SRINAGAR, India — A young man was killed and at least 14 others wounded Monday when government forces fired at anti-India protesters who were trying to help rebels escape during a gunbattle in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said. Two rebels were killed.
Indian troops cordoned off southern Drubgam village early Monday following a tip that rebels were hiding there, police said.
As the troops came closer to a cluster of homes, rebels fired at them, triggering a fierce exchange of gunfire which lasted for several hours, police said. Two local Kashmiri militants were killed and at least two soldiers, including an army officer, were injured in the fighting, police said.
The two slain rebels included a top commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Kashmir's largest militant group, police said.
Earlier, as fighting between the troops and rebels raged, anti-India residents chanted pro-rebel slogans and tried to march to the site to help the trapped militants escape, leading to clashes between rock-throwing villagers and government forces who fired live ammunition, shotgun pellets and tear gas.
At least 15 residents were reported injured in the clashes, including a young man who was hit by bullets and died in a hospital.
An army helicopter hovered over the area to coordinate the operation with ground troops, officials said.
Kashmiri separatist leaders who challenge India's sovereignty over the region politically condemned the killings and called for a protest strike on Tuesday.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations. Last year at least 29 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded during such clashes.
A new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the disputed region, has revived the militancy and challenged New Delhi's rule with guns and effective use of social media.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.