SRINAGAR, India â€” A 15-year-old boy was killed Thursday during an anti-India protest in disputed Kashmir triggered by a gunbattle in which two suspected rebels died, police and villagers said.
Senior police officer S.P. Vaid said the gunbattle began early Thursday after troops cordoned off southern Padgampora village on a tip that militants were hiding in a house.
As the fighting raged, villagers tried to march to the area and attacked government forces with rocks to help the militants escape, Vaid said.
Villagers said the troops fired live ammunition, tear gas and shotgun pellets at the protesters, killing a 15-year-old boy and wounding three others, one critically.
Vaid said the boy was killed by a stray bullet as the villagers ignored repeated calls by the authorities to stay away from the site of the gunbattle.
Another police official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said one of the two militants was killed in an initial exchange of gunfire.
He said government forces brought the other rebel’s wife and two children to the site from a neighbouring village to plead to him to surrender. The officer said he refused and was also killed in the fighting.
The clashes continued in the village and spread to the neighbouring town of Pampore, where businesses shuttered their shops and groups of youths hurled rocks at the troops.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have protected anti-India rebels by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants.
Indian army’s chief warned last month that “tough actions” would be taken against people throwing stones during counterinsurgency operations, but anti-India protests and clashes have continued.
Rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Most people in the Indian-controlled portion favour independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Aijaz Hussain, The Associated Press