9 rebels, 3 Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir fighting

Nine rebels and three Indian soldiers were killed in a pair of gunbattles in disputed Kashmir, an Indian army official said Sunday.

Indian soldiers killed five suspected militants along the highly militarized de facto front line in Keran sector on Sunday as an armed group of militants infiltrated from the Pakistani side of Kashmir into the Indian-controlled part, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman.

Kalia said three soldiers were also killed. He did not specify the number of injured, saying only that some others who were injured were undergoing treatment.

There was no independent confirmation of the incident.

The other gunbattle broke out in a neighborhood in southern Kulgam town as police and soldiers scoured the area looking for militants on Saturday, Kalia said. He said that as troops began conducting searches, they came under heavy gunfire, leading to a clash that killed four militants.

The fighting comes amid an ongoing lockdown in Kashmir to combat spread of the coronavirus.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the region’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight the armed rebellion.