SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Five Indian soldiers were killed in a fierce gunbattle with militants fighting against Indian rule in the Himalayan region of Kashmir on Monday, officials said, as violence in the disputed region has increased in recent weeks.
Police and soldiers cordoned off a forested area in southern Surankote area following an intelligence report that militants were present there, said Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman.
As troops launched a search operation, militants opened heavy gunfire that critically wounded an army officer and four soldiers, Anand said. They were evacuated to a nearest medical facility but died there, he said.
A reinforcement of soldiers and police was sent to the area, Anand said, adding that the fighting was ongoing.
No rebel group has immediately issued any statement.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict since 1989.
Monday’s fighting comes amid a sweeping crackdown by government forces in the Kashmir Valley following a string of targeted killings in the region’s main city of Srinagar last week. Police detained over 500 people for questioning after suspected militants shot and killed a prominent Kashmiri Hindu chemist, two schoolteachers of the Hindu and Sikh faiths, and a Hindu street food vendor from India’s eastern state of Bihar.
The killings appeared to have triggered widespread fear among minority communities, with many Hindu families opting to leave the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.