SRINAGAR: After months of lull, two suspected militants were killed in an encounter with government forces today morning in a north Kashmir village, sparking protests in the area.

Local witnesses said clashes are going on between forces and civilian protesters near Hajin village of Bandipora district where two suspected militants, believed to be foreigners, were killed early today.

A senior J&K Police officer said a cordon was laid around the area in wee hours of Tuesday following specific inputs about the presence of a group of Lashkar-e-Toiba militants. The operation was carried out by personnel of Army's 13 Rashtriya Rifles and J&K Police's SOG.

According to police sources, more than 100 foreign militants have infiltrated into this part of Kashmir - most of them are holed up in north Kashmir areas - from across the de facto border this year alone, which is almost double as compared with the figures of last year.

"Our teams spotted two youths running towards an orchard who were asked to stop. They opened fire which was effectively retaliated during which two militants were killed," a senior police officer said.

The identity of the slain men has not been confirmed so far but the police officer said they are believed to be recruits of Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit who had sneaked into Kashmir recently.

Witnesses said a large crowd of locals had gathered around the site of the encounter and they tried to "distract" the forces from carrying out the operation. "When the operation was over, the local staged protests and shouted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans," a local said, wishing anonymity.

Protests and clashes were going on in the area at the time when this report was filed.

The killings come after weeks of lull in counter-insurgency operations due to the civilian unrest in Kashmir during which anti-India and pro-freedom protests swept the region following the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani on July 8.

The anti-insurgency operations had taken a backseat in Kashmir as forces were asked to deal with a wave of violent protests which created an unprecedented "law and order problem" in the region.

To curb the pro-freedom and anti-India protests during the ongoing uprising, at least 94 civilians were killed in retaliatory action by government forces while hundreds lost vision due to use of pellets.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Women at the funeral of a young man who had gone missing since October from his residence in Kakpora. His father had published a missing notice in the newspapers. Dar, now alleged by the police to have joined the Hizbul Mujahideen was killed in a gun battle in a village)