India troops block Kashmir villages amid massive rebel hunt

India troops block Kashmir villages amid massive rebel hunt

SRINAGAR, India — Thousands of Indian government forces cordoned off at least two dozen villages in southern Kashmir on Thursday while they hunted for separatist militants believed to be hiding in the area, but called off the operation after about 10 hours without finding any, police said.

They said the operation, launched after a spate of rebel attacks and anti-India protests, was the biggest in recent years in the disputed Himalayan territory.

Indian soldiers, paramilitary forces and police searched house-to-house for militants believed hiding in the Shopian area, known for its vast apple orchards. Helicopters and drones hovered over the villages while ground forces stood guard at village entry points. Schools were closed early.

Villagers expressed surprise as soldiers directed them to assemble in central areas.

“We don’t know what is going on,” said Mohammed Subhan Mir, head of Darazpora village. “There are soldiers all around us, moving everywhere as if it is war.”

Police said some residents resisted the search, and clashes erupted in at least two villages. No injuries were reported.

Authorities said they were trying to find militants as well as choke off support from a sympathetic public. Villagers have increasingly protected the rebels by hurling rocks and abuse at Indian troops when they enter their villages. At least five civilians have been killed by government forces during such clashes this year.

Senior police officer S.P. Pani said the troops didn’t find any militants.

“Still, it was a successful operation as we could sweep through so many villages with a bare minimum of local resistance.”

Another officer who was part of the operation and spoke on customary condition of anonymity said the troops were lifting their siege of the Shopian villages and were shifting to the neighbouring Kulgam area.

Both Shopian and Kulgam have become militant hotbeds in the past year since Indian forces killed a popular rebel leader. The rebel’s death triggered a massive surge in anti-India protests in the mostly Muslim region, and police say dozens of young people from these areas have joined the rebel ranks.

Last week, several videos showing about 30 militants with rifles marching through an apple orchard appeared on social media sites despite a ban imposed by Indian authorities on 22 such sites and applications. Police said they believed the militants were in Shopian, where several banks were also recently looted in attacks blamed on militants.

Meanwhile, students chanted pro-freedom slogans and threw rocks at government forces, who responded with tear gas in the northwestern town of Sopore, as students continued anti-India protests for a third week. At least 10 students were reported injured.

Young students in school uniforms have clashed increasingly with government forces across Indian-held Kashmir after troops raided a college in the southern town of Pulwama last month.

Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighbouring Pakistan, which also claims the mountainous region. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown. India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

The nuclear-armed nations have fought two wars over their rival claims to the territory.

Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years. However, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and is now principally expressed through street protests marked by youths hurling stones at government forces.

Aijaz Hussain, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Three suspicious fires in Saanich under investigation

Saanich Fire are currently investigating three suspicious spot-fires in Saanich’s Panama Flats… Continue reading

Victoria police find woman hiding replica handgun in purse

Officers used de-escalation training with woman in downtown alley

Saanich seals history with time capsule

Saanich will re-open time capsule in 2067

Short trip to car-free Sidney Spit offers camping, beaches, hikes

Sidney Spit is part of B.C.’s Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, a protected marine ecosystem

Heat warning issued for Vancouver Island

Temperatures expected to cool down later this week

VIDEO: Visual recap of Vancouver Island MusicFest

Walk Off The Earth, Passenger, Arlo Guthrie among highlights

Trudeau’s youth council divided over Trans Mountain pipeline purchase

A letter signed by 16 past and present members was made public today, asking the federal government to reverse course

Hulk Hogan reinstated into wrestling Hall of Fame

Hogan had used racial slurs caught on video when talking about his daughter sleeping with a black man

Island wide crime spree leads to multiple charges against Cowichan Valley resident

Social Media and citizens of the North Island played a big role in solving the case.

‘Lava bomb’ through roof of tour boat injures 22 in Hawaii

“An explosion occurred near the shoreline hurling hot lava rocks towards the boat and injuring several passengers”

B.C. teen meets Nicolas Cage

Filming mob movie in downtown Vernon, B.C.

Critics claim Trump “defended a tyrant”

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

B.C. MLAs choose new children’s watchdog

Jennifer Charlesworth has worked in government, social services

Most Read