Indian military forces take up positions near a building taken over by suspected militants during clashes south of Srinagar, Kashmir, February 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A police officer and two militants have been killed during a fierce gun battle at a southern village in the Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The 15-hour firefight erupted late on Saturday after Indian government forces, acting on a tip-off, encircled a civilian home believed to be occupied by militants in Nazneenpora Village in the town of Tral, located in the restive southern district of Pulwama.
Shesh Paul Vaid, the regional police chief, said the fatalities occurred when the Indian soldiers detonated explosives during the siege and the militants hurled grenades and fired automatic rifles to break the security cordon.
At least three other security officials, including an army officer, sustained injuries in the heavy gunfire exchange.
An anonymous police source said that alongside the fighting, hundreds of villagers also clashed with government forces in an attempt to aid the besieged militants, prompting soldiers to fire shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the rock-throwing protesters. No injuries were reported from that standoff.
A Kashmiri protester (background) throws an exploded tear smoke shell back at paramilitary soldiers during a clash in Srinagar, Kashmir, February 15, 2016. (Photo by AP)
Thousands of soldiers are deployed in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where militant groups have for decades been fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India
and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two partitioned and gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the disputed territory.
While an escalation in the dispute was underway in the disputed region after a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, gradual diplomatic efforts led to an agreement by the two countries to maintain a ceasefire in Kashmir in November 2003.
Since then, there have been sporadic clashes — with the two sides trading accusations of violating the ceasefire — but no major armed conflict between the militaries of the two countries.
The region has also been the scene of protests and tighter security since early July last year, when Indian forces killed a leading pro-independence fighter. The protests have left nearly 90 civilians and two policemen dead and thousands of others injured.