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Kashmir Siege ! India troops block Kashmir villages amid massive rebel hunt-

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.

Police 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 were searching house-to-house for militants believed hiding in the Shopian area, known for its vast apple orchards. Helicopters hovered over the villages while ground forces stood guard at village entry points. Schools were closed early.

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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 immediately reported.

Shopian has emerged as a militant hotbed 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 Shopian have joined rebel ranks.

Authorities said they were trying to find hidden rebels as well as choke off support from a sympathetic public. Villagers have increasingly protected the fighters by hurling rocks and abuse at Indian troops when they arrive in their villages. At least five civilians have been killed by government forces during such clashes this year.

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.

Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighboring 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.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
By Aijaz Hussain | AP
News Source : .washingtonpost