SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The Indian army said Wednesday its troops have been battling for days against dozens of armed rebels who crossed the heavily militarized border from the Pakistan-controlled portion of the disputed Kashmir region into Indian-held territory.
The fighting — in which the Indian army said 12 militants had died in nine days — could complicate efforts by the Indian and Pakistani leaders to defuse tensions over their countries' rival claims to the Himalayan territory.
After decades of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif agreed Sunday in talks in New York that attacks in the region needed to stop. But while the Pakistani premier called the meeting a chance for a "new beginning," his Indian counterpart demanded that terrorist activity emanating from Pakistan cease before long-stalled peace talks could be resumed.
Lt. Gen. Gurmeet Singh, an Indian army commander in Kashmir, said soldiers first encountered up to 40 rebels on Sept. 24 in the abandoned village of Shala Bhata, near the U.N.-drawn Line of Control that divides the Kashmir region.
"There is no question of our territory being taken over," he said, but denied Indian media reports that Pakistani soldiers had occupied the village or any military outposts there.
"We're in total control of the operation," the commander said. "The reports of our posts being captured by the infiltrators are absurd."
However, he suggested that some Pakistani special troops might be among the infiltrators, who he said were crossing at multiple points in the rugged forested region.
This gives "the indication that definitely there were some special troops" from Pakistan involved, he said. "This is quite different from the trend we have seen in the earlier infiltration attempts."
Typically, Indian officials report incidents involving a handful of alleged militants crossing at any time.
A Pakistani military official denied that Pakistani troops had crossed the border into Indian-controlled territory. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.
There has been no independent confirmation of the commander's comments, made at a news conference Wednesday evening, or of the Indian media reports.
A senior police officer, however, said either militants or special Pakistani forces had occupied some forward posts in Shala Bhata village. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Another senior police officer said there was "a lot of confusion" about what was happening on the ground, and that Indian authorities were working carefully to verify the facts because any official Pakistani involvement would constitute "an act of aggression, an act of war." He also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Singh, the Indian army commander, declined to say how many Indian troops were involved in the fighting, but denied media reports that the air force was assisting ground troops. He said five soldiers had been wounded in the fighting at Shala Bhata, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northwest of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-held Kashmir.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, while rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for independence or for merger with neighboring Pakistan, though most resistance is now shown through street protests.
India has long accused Pakistan of training and arming Kashmiri militants. Pakistan denies this and says it only gives moral and diplomatic support.