SRINAGAR: Violent clashes have broken out in south Kashmir’s Tral town where two suspected militants and a policeman were killed in an overnight encounter with government forces.

Officials said at least seven protesters were injured in clashes with security forces of which three, who have suffered grevious pellet injuries, were rushed to the summer capital Srinagar for specialised treatment while the rest are being treated at a local hospital.

Violence had broken out in Hafoo Nazneenpora area of Tral with protesters attempting to break the cordon around a house where suspected militants including Sabzar Ahmad, an A category militant and a close associate of Burhan Wani, were reported to be trapped.

Hundreds of residents from adjoining villages marched to the site of the encounter and, when security forces tried to stop them, indulged in violence by pelting stones, apparently to help the trapped militants in escaping.

Forces used Improvised Explosives Devices to blow up the house on Saturday evening to kill the militants but the exchange of fire continued late into night after which the operation was suspended even as protesters continued to disrupt the forces by pelting stones, officials said.

On Sunday morning, the house was blown up and the bodies of two suspected militants were recovered from the site. A policeman was also killed while three security personnel, including an Army major, were injured in the gunfight. The condition of the injured is reported to be stable.

Sources said one of the slain militant is Auqib Ahmad alias Auqib Molvi, a student of an Islamic seminary and an associate of Hizb's Burhan Wani, whose killing brought Kashmir on an edge and close to hundred people were killed in the five month long unrest that ensued last year. The other militant has been identified as Usama. He is believed to be from Pakistan.

Although the security personnel are tight-lipped on the issue, there are reports that Sabzar and other militants might have managed to escape from the house using the cover of darkness and the disruption caused by protesters when the encounter started.

Officials said hundreds of residents including women and children staged protests in different areas of Tral early on Saturday evening when the encounter started. At one place, a security man was overpowered and a rifle was snatched from him by protesters.

“It is a matter of serious concern. Swelling crowds who indulge in violence near encounter sites distract the security forces carrying out the operation which sometimes proves costly for us. But we exercise utmost restrain to avoid any civilian casualty,” a senior police officer said.

(Photograph of Srinagar restrictions by BASIT ZARGAR)