Thursday 26 April 2018

Indian forces storm government building to end three-day stand-off

Smoke billows from a building following a a gun battle in Pampore, near Srinagar (AP)
Smoke billows from a building following a a gun battle in Pampore, near Srinagar (AP)

Indian forces have killed the last three militants holed up for three days in a building in Kashmir, the army said, raising the stand-off's death toll to nine.

The troops recovered a huge quantity of arms and ammunition as they secured each floor of the five-story government building, Lieutenant General Arvind Dutta said.

Five soldiers and one civilian had been killed over the weekend.

Loud explosions and fierce exchange of gunfire rattled the building during the 50-hour stand-off, which was the longest-running attack in five years in the disputed Himalayan region's main city of Srinagar or its outskirts.

Fire was also seen in the building, but the flames subsided after a while.

"The exchange of gunfire has ended. We're now clearing the huge building room by room," senior police officer Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani said.

During the day, the army said the last holdout rebels had been cornered in the building. "Our main purpose is to make sure that we don't have any more casualties," Lieutenant General Satish Kumar Dua, India's top army officer in Kashmir, said as the operations were ongoing.

The militants had taken refuge in the building after they fired automatic rifles and ambushed a convoy of paramilitary soldiers on Saturday. The rebels allowed more than 100 civilian government employees to leave the building without any harm.

Two army captains, two paramilitary soldiers, a special forces soldier and a civilian were killed in the stand-off, and 13 paramilitary troops were wounded.

Hundreds of residents in the Pampore area, where the militants had holed up, demonstrated on the streets on Sunday and Monday to support the rebels. Ignoring government orders to stay away from the site, they chanted slogans against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Government forces fired tear gas and pellet guns, while the protesters threw rocks. Police said at least 15 protesters were hurt.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, where rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for either independence or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.

India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. The rival nations have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.

Press Association

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