By Associated Press - Monday, March 25, 2019

SRINAGAR, India (AP) - Indian police on Monday blamed rebels for the death of a 12-year-old boy who was held hostage during a clash in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

Police officer Rahul Malik said the boy was taken hostage by the insurgents and killed Friday in the northern town of Hajin during a search operation by government forces which also left two insurgents dead.

Rebels have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan since 1989. India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the region in its entirety.

Army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said on Friday that security forces found the bodies of two insurgents and the boy after an exchange of gunfire that started in the area a day earlier.

Police officer Malik provided new details on Monday after a preliminary inquiry into Friday’s clash.

He said the insurgents initially held two civilians as hostages. One of them, 60-year-old Abdul Hammed, managed to free himself, Malik said.

“Another civilian, a 12-year-old boy, Aatif Mir, was kept hostage by the terrorists till the end and despite repeated requests by community members and police for his release, he was brutally killed by the terrorists and could not be rescued from the clutches of the terrorists,” a police statement said.

The rebels then fired on the security forces, who engaged them after evacuating civilians in adjoining areas to safer places, the statement said. In the ensuing fighting, two rebels belonging to the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba were killed, it said.

Khurram Parvez, a prominent Kashmiri human rights activist who heads the Coalition of Civil Society, condemned the killing of the young boy.

In a tweet, he said the boy “was killed during the encounter at Hajin when the house in which militants were hiding was destroyed by armed forces.”

The boy “was held hostage by militants. Militants and armed forces are both responsible for this murder. Surely militants are accused of a horrible crime,” he said.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the insurgents, a charge Islamabad denies. Pakistan says it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the rebels fighting Indian rule.

Tensions escalated last month after India launched an airstrike inside Pakistan, targeting militants blamed for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 troops.

Pakistan retaliated and said it shot down two Indian planes and captured a pilot, who was later returned to India. However, India says it lost only one aircraft. International pressure helped prevent the situation from worsening.

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