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

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. is conducting an emergency alert test on Nov. 25 at 1:55 p.m. (Black Press Media File photo)
Expect B.C.-wide emergency alert system test Wednesday afternoon

The message will be broadcast at 1:55 p.m. on Nov. 25.

The Grinch was spotted on a tractor in Metchosin Monday morning, an early welcome for the holiday season. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTO: Grinch arrives early for the holidays in Metchosin

Send your favourite Christmas decorations to Black Press Media

(Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria dine and dash brings $230 fine

Group paid the bill, police locate suspect who violated provincial restrictions, mistreated staff

file
Oak Bay resident bilked $3,300 in puppy scam

Three cases of fraud reported in two days

Sidney’s Star Cinema has temporarily closed as part of efforts to COVID-19. (Black Press Media File).
Sidney’s Star Cinema temporarily goes dark

Closure reflects provincial health order in effect until Dec. 7

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

Parksville’s French Creek Harbour experienced a diesel spill on Nov. 23 after a barge and fishing vessel collided. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Coast Guard cleans up diesel spill in Parksville’s French Creek Harbour

Barge carrying fuel truck collides with fishing vessel

Stock photo
Senior from Gibsons caught viewing child porn sentenced to 10 months

74-year-old pleaded guilty after police seized 1,500-2,500 images

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

(Pixabay)
All dance studios, other indoor group fitness facilities must close amid updated COVID-19 rules

Prior announcement had said everything except spin, HIIT and hot yoga could remain open

Most Read