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Indian troops kill top rebel commander in disputed Kashmir region

Saifullah Mir was the chief of operations of the region’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen.

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Indian police men rush towards their armoured vehicle near the site of a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar (Dar Yasin/AP)

Indian police men rush towards their armoured vehicle near the site of a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar (Dar Yasin/AP)

Indian police men rush towards their armoured vehicle near the site of a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar (Dar Yasin/AP)

Indian government forces killed a top rebel commander in Kashmir during a gun battle in the disputed region’s main city, police said, calling it a major success against the rebels’ long fight against Indian rule.

The dead commander, Saifullah Mir, was the chief of operations of the region’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which has spearheaded an armed rebellion against Indian rule for decades.

Inspector General Vijay Kumar said police and paramilitary soldiers launched an operation on Sunday in Srinagar in a neighbourhood in the city’s outskirts based on a tip that Saifullah was sheltering there.

He said a gunfight ensued in which the militant commander was killed and his suspected associate was captured.

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Kashmiri protesters amid tear gas smoke clash with Indian police (Dar Yasin/AP)

Kashmiri protesters amid tear gas smoke clash with Indian police (Dar Yasin/AP)

Kashmiri protesters amid tear gas smoke clash with Indian police (Dar Yasin/AP)

Insp Gen Kumar said the killing was a major victory for India’s counter-insurgency operations in the region.

There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels about the killing.

Shortly after the gunfight, anti-India protests broke out in the neighbourhood.

Police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to stop scores of stone-throwing young men from marching in the area.

The protesters were chanting slogans including “We want freedom” and “Go India, go back”.

No one was reported injured in the clashes.

According to officials, Saifullah joined the rebels’ ranks in 2014 and took charge of the Hizbul Mujahideen as its top operations commander after Indian troops killed his predecessor Reyaz Naikoo in May.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but the rivals each claim the region in its entirety.

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Indian police men fire pellets as they chase Kashmiri protesters (Dar Yasin/AP)

Indian police men fire pellets as they chase Kashmiri protesters (Dar Yasin/AP)

Indian police men fire pellets as they chase Kashmiri protesters (Dar Yasin/AP)

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Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.

Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India says Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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