SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian government forces killed six suspected militants in a series of counterinsurgency operations in disputed Kashmir, police said Thursday, as many shops were shut in parts of the region to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of a popular rebel commander whose killing triggered open defiance against Indian rule.
The deaths in four separate incidents starting Wednesday came as violence in the Himalayan region has increased in recent weeks.
Four suspected militants were killed in two separate gunfights with Indian troops in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama and Kulgam districts early Thursday, the Indian army said. It said soldiers recovered two rifles and two pistols from the sites of the clashes.
On Wednesday, troops apprehended a senior rebel, Mehraj-ud-din Halwai, in the northwestern Handwara area, and after an interrogation he led them to a hideout where he was killed in a firefight, police said in a statement.
At the hideout, Halwai “picked up his hidden AK-47 rifle and started firing indiscriminately upon the joint search party which led to an encounter,” the statement said.
Police said Halwai was wanted for several killings of police and village officials.
It was the second such incident in 10 days.
On June 29, police said a suspected rebel commander being held in custody was killed during a gunfight between government forces and another militant after he was taken to a house where he allegedly had concealed a rifle in the region’s main city, Srinagar.
Many militants have been killed in the past when they were taken by government forces to recover weapons, in what rights groups and residents have called extrajudicial killings.
On Thursday, many shops and businesses in the Kashmir valley, the heartland of the anti-India rebellion, remained shut to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of a popular rebel commander.
Government forces patrolled streets and sealed off Burhan Wani’s hometown in anticipation of anti-India protests. Wani was killed along with two associates in a brief battle with Indian troops in 2016.
Separatist leaders called for a general strike to honor Wani, whose death led to months of massive protests and clashes in the region. At least 100 people, mostly young men, were killed and thousands wounded, including many who were blinded by shotgun pellets fired by Indian troops.
Wani’s death gave new life to the militant movement, which had declined to only about 100 fighters in scattered rebel groups. Officials say that since his killing, hundreds of young men have joined the rebels’ ranks.
Meanwhile, the Indian army said its soldiers killed a suspected militant on Wednesday who was infiltrating into the Indian side of Kashmir from the Pakistan-controlled portion of the territory along its highly militarized de facto frontier.
It was the first such incident reported since Feb. 25, when the two nations agreed to reaffirm their 2003 cease-fire accord, which has silenced the normally tense frontier area.
There was no independent confirmation of any of the four incidents.
Rebels in Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.