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Five Kashmir rebels killed as India steps up operations

Indian paramilitary troops stand guard in front of closed shops in Srinagar
Indian paramilitary troops stand guard in front of closed shops in Srinagar TAUSEEF MUSTAFA AFP
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Srinagar (India) (AFP)

Five suspected rebels were killed Wednesday in a dawn firefight with hundreds of troops in Indian-administered Kashmir, officials said, as New Delhi escalates counter-insurgency efforts in the disputed territory.

The fatalities pushed the death toll during the current escalation -- which has ramped up since India's nationwide coronavirus lockdown started in late March -- to 14 alleged militants in four days.

The men, who were in an underground hideout at an apple orchard near Sugoo village south of the main city of Srinagar, were surrounded by the troops before daybreak, a local police officer told AFP.

"Five militants were killed in the firefight that ensued. Their bodies and five weapons were retrieved from the site," army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia told AFP.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in turmoil since last August when New Delhi revoked its semi-autonomous status and imposed a communications blackout that has not been fully lifted.

At least 93 rebels, including six top commanders, have been killed by Indian forces since January.

The 14 deaths in three firefights have taken place in the picturesque southern Kashmir valley region, known for its vast apple orchards.

The shootouts have also sparked clashes between government forces and angry villagers who support the militants.

Two civilians have also been shot dead by unknown gunmen in recent days, including a village official from India's main opposition Congress party. Police blamed the killings on rebels.

Last month, Riyaz Naikoo, commander of the region's main militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed.

Rebel groups have fought for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support. New Delhi has blamed Islamabad for fuelling the insurgency, which Pakistan has denied.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.

The latest clashes have come just over a week after two Pakistan embassy officials were expelled by New Delhi over spying allegations.

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