SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Three local rebels were killed in a gunbattle with Indian government forces in disputed Kashmir on Sunday, and six civilians were killed in an explosion at the site after the fighting was over, officials and residents said.
Meanwhile, three Indian army soldiers and two suspected militants were killed in a gunbattle along the highly militarized line of control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The fighting erupted after troops cordoned off a village in the southern Kulgam area on a tip that rebels were hiding there, India's military said. The exchange lasted for several hours, and three militants were killed and two soldiers injured, the military said.
Residents said soldiers blasted a civilian home with explosives while fighting the rebels, a common charge by Kashmiris who deeply resent the Indian army's presence.
As the fighting raged, anti-India protesters tried to reach the site of the standoff. They threw stones at government forces hoping to help the trapped rebels escape. Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the protesters, leaving at least 35 injured.
As counterinsurgency police and soldiers hastily left the place after the fighting was over, hundreds of civilians converged on the site. An explosion occurred as people tried to extinguish a fire at the blasted house, residents said, killing at least one civilian and wounding 10 others who were hospitalized in critical condition. Five other civilians died at hospitals.
S.P. Pani, a top police officer, said the civilians assembled at the site despite repeated requests to stay away as soldiers were still clearing the area. "Someone from the crowd fiddled with an unexploded explosive substance, resulting in the tragic incident," he said.
Authorities suspended cellphone and internet services and ordered a curfew in Kulgam in a bid to discourage further protests.
But anti-India protests and clashes still erupted at several places in the region, including in the main city of Srinagar, where protesters hit the streets demanding an end of Indian rule over Kashmir. They threw stones at government forces who fired tear gas and pellets to quell the spiraling protests. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the latest clashes.
Separatist leaders who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir called for a general strike on Monday to protest the killings.
Other fighting on Sunday flared up along the de facto front line in Sunderbani sector when a heavily armed group of militants infiltrated from the Pakistani side of Kashmir into the Indian-controlled part, said Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman. He said the fighting left three soldiers and two militants dead. There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.