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

Political theatre shines light on womens issues

The Vagina Monologues returned to Fernie last weekend for the second time,… Continue reading

Local rink heading to curling provincials

The Mens Masters East-West playdown took place in Sparwood from February 2-4.… Continue reading

Kootenay East MLA reacts to Throne Speech

Tom Shypitka says speech falls short of intended mark.

Specialist shortage affecting elective surgeries

East Kootenay Regional Hospital recruiting additional anesthetists

Youth compete in winter Olympics

Bundled up under layers of fluorescent clothing, children excitedly participated in École… Continue reading

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Canucks came out hot, beat Bruins 6-1

Loui Eriksson scores twice, catapulting Vancouver to a lopsided victory over Boston

B.C. man brings dog to court as ‘best witness’

Man is defending himself on charges of uttering threats, possessing weapon for dangerous purposes

Vancouver artist’s cartoon of Florida school shooting resonates

Cartoon shows football coach, one of the victims, meeting others killed in school shootings

Trudeau family arrives in India for state visit

Seven-day visit includes meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Military seeks DNA experts to help ID missing war dead

Federal program recovers, identifies and arranges burials for Canada’s nearly 28,000 missing war dead

B.C. files new legal action against TransMountain pipeline

Province tries to uphold City of Burnaby bylaws, provoking Alberta

BCHL Today: Powell River stuns Vernon and BCHL grads lead Team Canada

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Most Read