SRINAGAR: Indian forces killed five Kashmiri fighters in two gunbattles in India-held Kashmir (IHK), including a teenager, police said on Sunday. A policeman was also killed by armed Kashmiris in a separate attack in the disputed Himalayan region.

Fighting began late on Saturday when troops, acting on intelligence, cordoned off two villages in the southern Shopian and Bijbehara areas, Inspector General Vijay Kumar told reporters. He said two soldiers were wounded in Shopian.

A policeman was shot in the western Magam area, an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. He blamed anti-India protesters for the killing but gave no further details.

Earlier this year, Pakistan and India reaffirmed their 2003 ceasefire accord. However, inside IHK, a crackdown by occupation forces as well as attacks by Kashmiri fighters have continued.

Kumar, the inspector general, said one of the three Kashmiri fighters killed in Shopian was a teenage boy, and claimed that a rifle and two pistols were recovered after the gunfight.

Other police officers, also speaking anonymously, said the boy was 16 years old and had joined the anti-India struggle only a few days earlier.

After years of peaceful protest, more and more Kashmiris are once again picking up arms as the Indian authorities have refused to consider their demand for the right to self-determination. Pakistan has repeatedly called for resolving the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

In Bijbehara, Kumar said Indian forces killed two armed Kashmiris and recovered two rifles, alleging that the two were responsible for killing an army soldier on Friday. Area residents said occupation forces torched a civilian home during the gunbattle.

Authorities buried the five deceased at a remote graveyard about 120km from their ancestral villages, a police statement said. Under a policy started in April 2020, Indian authorities have buried over 200 Kashmiri fighters in unmarked graves, denying their families proper funerals. The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the region.

At least 15 armed Kashmiris, two policemen and an army soldier have been killed so far this month. Tens of thousands of civilians, Kashmiri fighters and Indian forces have been killed in the conflict. The youngest to die in the three-decade anti-India protests was a 14-year-old boy killed by Indian soldiers alongside another teen in late 2018.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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