Major gunbattle near Kashmir border kills 17

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2014 6:35 AM
Major gunbattle near Kashmir border kills 17

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Militants in the disputed territory of Kashmir attacked an Indian army camp Friday, triggering a fierce gunbattle that left 11 Indian soldiers and six suspected assailants dead, officials said.

At least three other deadly attacks were launched elsewhere Friday in the region, where local elections were being held through December.

At the Indian army camp in the Uri region, rebels hurled grenades and fired automatic rifles as they tried to enter the camp's artillery unit, an army officer told The Associated Press. Some of the rebels, firing wildly, succeeded in getting into the camp, officials said.

The sprawling camp, also the regional headquarters of the army's artillery regiment, is near the heavily militarized line of control that divides the Himalayan region into an Indian-administered portion and a Pakistan-controlled side.

Eight soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, and three policemen were killed on the Indian side, along with six militants, police said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to media.

"The firing has stopped right now," the Indian police chief in Kashmir, said K. Rajendra. "We're searching and sanitizing the area and clearing any unexploded grenades hurled by militants."

None of several rebel groups active in Kashmir issued any statement about Friday's fighting, which erupted two days after a gunbattle broke out in the neighboring Handwara region. Six suspected rebels and one Indian army officer were killed.

Also Friday, government forces intercepted two suspected militants on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, leading to a brief exchange of gunfire that left two rebels dead, police said. Two police officers were also wounded. Troops cordoned off the area.

In the southern town of Tral, unknown attackers hurled a grenade near a paramilitary bunker inside a bus station where an election campaign rally was being held, police said. One civilian was killed and at least six others wounded. Police blamed militants for the attack, but could not say whether the rally or the bunker had been the target.

Suspected militants also lobbed a grenade at a police station in Shopian town, but caused no damage, police said.

The rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed since that time in the uprising and Indian military crackdown, which also largely suppressed rebel activity.

There has been a flurry of recent attacks, however, as the region holds local elections. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited twice in the last month, and is due to return Monday to give a campaign speech in Srinagar.

The violence was not deterring voters, as election officials said turnout for the first two of five phases was about 70 percent.

Police have stepped up security throughout the region, with more checkpoints on major roads and more police patrolling on foot.

India and Pakistan have fought two of three wars since 1947 over their rival claims to the territory. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the militants with arms and trainings, while Islamabad staunchly denies this, saying it offers only morale and diplomatic support for their cause.