Indian troops killed at least eight rebels in restive Kashmir, including two who hid in a mosque, officials said on Friday, as New Delhi escalates counter-insurgency efforts in the disputed territory despite the coronavirus outbreak.
The new fatalities following gun battles on Thursday and Friday take the death toll of rebel fighters to over 100 this year, officials said.
One gun battle at Neej, near the Muslim-majority region's main city of Srinagar, led to the death of one rebel and a nightlong standoff with two others who hid inside a mosque, officials said.
Security forces used "tear smoke shells" on the mosque and later "neutralised" the two inside, Kashmir's inspector general of police Vijay Kumar said in a Twitter statement.
There were no immediate independent accounts of the incident.
Security forces also killed five rebels who hid in an underground shelter in an apple orchard in Shopian district, security officials said.
The shootouts sparked clashes between Indian forces and villagers who support the rebels.
Dispute since 1947
New Delhi last year scrapped the restive Muslim-majority Himalayan region's semi-autonomous status and imposed a curfew to quell unrest.
India also passed controversial domicile laws in the region, that will allow non-locals to take up jobs and ultimately buy properties in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
Kashmiris say India wants to effect a demographic change in the region by settling non-local Hindus there.
Rebel groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have battled for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.
India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir.
100 rebels killed so far this year
After the killing of eight rebels today, Kumar congratulated the Indian forces in Kashmir for killing 100 rebels in the disputed region so far this year.
"IGP Kashmir Shri Vijay Kumar #congratulates Team Kashmir for completing a #century on the front of #AntiTerrorist operations. @JmuKmrPolice," Kashmir Zone Police tweeted.
Police sources told Anadolu Agency that nearly 32 rebels have been killed in southern Kashmir in the last 19 days, which include 22 rebels killed in Shopian alone in less than a two-week period.
Kumar had recently said militancy stands almost wiped out from South Kashmir and the regional police would now shift its focus to North Kashmir from next month.
Calls to end violence
Despite multiple calls for a ceasefire, violence in the disputed region continues unabated.
In an appeal in March, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had urged warring parties across the globe to lay down their arms in support of the fight against the novel coronavirus but the situation in India-administered Kashmir has worsened with the outbreak. [Source: TRT World and agencies]