7 suspected rebels, 1 Indian soldier killed in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Seven suspected rebels and an Indian army soldier were killed in two gunbattles in Indian-administered Kashmir in the last 24 hours, officials said Saturday.

Three militants and a soldier died early Saturday after troops and police launched a search operation in a village in southern Pulwama district, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesperson. He said troops recovered an assault rifle and two pistols from the slain militants.

On Friday, joint teams of army, paramilitary and police forces cordoned off a village in southern Shopian district following a tip that militants were hiding there, leading to an exchange of fire, police said.

Four militants were killed and another was arrested during the operation, a police statement said. It said troops seized two automatic rifles and three pistols from the site of the fighting.

Since January, government forces have killed 180 militants during counterinsurgency operations, according to the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a rights group. Based on official figures, data shows that over half of them had joined the rebels less than a year ago, and out of them most had been active for only a few months.

In many of the encounters, the weapons recovered by government forces included only pistols, according to official records. At least 68 government forces and 46 civilians have been killed since January, the rights group said.

The violence comes amid near daily fighting between Pakistani and Indian soldiers along the highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between the two rivals. Dozens of civilians and soldiers have died on both sides.

India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.

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