India launches major Kashmir anti-militant operation

Indian army soldiers conduct a patrol during an operation against suspected rebels in Turkwangam Lassipora in Shopian south of Srinagar on May 4, 2017 Image copyright AFP
Image caption One police official described the anti-militant operation as "unprecedented"

Indian security forces are searching for militants in the restive region of Kashmir in what is being called a major operation.

The move, which began on Thursday, follows a series of attacks on security forces and banks in southern districts of the Indian-administered region.

Security forces have surrounded at least 20 villages in what they say is a search-and-cordon operation.

Protests have escalated in the Muslim-majority region since April.

Troops began searching for militants early on Thursday in Shopian district, reports said.

"We saw helicopters hovering over us as the army, paramilitary forces and police were conducting house searches," Rasheed Wani, a villager from Shopian, told the BBC's Riyaz Masroor.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Troops have been searching house-to-house in some areas

Senior police official SP Pani told the AFP news agency that it was "an unprecedented operation".

"It is impossible to capture the militants, but we hope there will be contact [exchange of fire] with them in the course of the day."

Officials said the forces had encountered resistance from civilians during the operation.

Eyewitnesses told AFP that hundreds of residents came out on to the streets in two villages, Sug and Tarkwangan, and threw stones at the soldiers.

One resident alleged that soldiers had attacked private homes in his village with sticks and rocks.

A civilian driver was killed and two soldiers were injured late on Thursday, when a man hired by the army to transport soldiers came under fire, a senior police officer said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption In some areas soldiers have encountered hostility from villagers, reports say
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The latest violence comes amid rumbling protests, like this one by Kashmiri students in Srinagar on 29 April

A senior official told The Indian Express newspaper that a search operation "of this magnitude has not been undertaken in Kashmir in the last 15 years".

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat told reporters the work was being carried out to bring the situation in the Kashmir valley "under control".

Kashmir saw fresh clashes between troops and protesters amid attempts to hold a by-election in April.

Local protesters hurled stones at security forces who were accused of opening fire into the crowds.

A viral video of a group of Kashmiris heckling a soldier has also contributed to anti-Kashmiri sentiment in the rest of the country.

There has been an armed revolt in the Muslim-majority region against rule by India since 1989.

High unemployment and complaints of heavy-handed tactics by security forces battling street protesters and fighting insurgents have aggravated the problem.

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