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Indian troops battle rebels in Kashmir
( 2003-09-04 16:19) (Agencies)

A gunbattle between hundreds of soldiers and suspected Islamic rebels at a mountain hideout stretched into a third day Thursday, while two civilians and five militants were killed in violence elsewhere in Kashmir.

Violence has spiked in Kashmir, since the killing last week of a key guerrilla commander by Indian forces.

In one attack, Islamic militants dressed in army fatigues stormed the village of Sanglani, dragging Ghulam Mohammed, a 51-year-old Muslim, from of his house then cutting off his hands, breaking his legs and slitting his throat, a police officer said by telephone from the local control room.

The attackers fled after the killing, which occurred 140 miles northwest of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, police said. Muslims became militant targets if they are suspected of being informers for the security forces.

The Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in predominantly Hindu India. Muslim rebels are waging a violent campaign since 1989 to separate the region from Indian control or to merge it into Pakistan, India's western neighbor and rival.

Also Thursday, Indian soldiers foiled a pre-dawn attack by suspected militants on an army guest house, killing two rebels, police said. The soldiers opened fire when the attackers approached the guest house, said S.M. Sahai, deputy inspector general of police.

Paramilitary soldiers also killed two suspected rebels in a gun battle in Bandipora town, about 230 miles north of Jammu, a police officer said on condition of anonymity. Police said both the slain rebels belonged to the largest Kashmiri rebel group, Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen.

Separately, soldiers ambushed and killed a suspected guerrilla in the village of Handarwan, about 200 miles northeast of Jammu, police said.

In yet another incident, a 20-year-old woman was killed and two children injured in a gun battle between soldiers and suspected guerrillas in the town of Punch, 150 miles north of Jammu, Sahai said.

Meanwhile, sporadic gunfire continued between militants and soldiers who have surrounded a suspected rebel base hidden in thick forests and tall wild grass in the mountainous district of Kathua. Ten soldiers have been wounded since fighting began Tuesday, police said.

Some 1,000 soldiers have surrounded the forest, police said.

Islamic rebels, fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989, have stepped up attacks on government forces after Indian paramilitary forces killed a key guerrilla commander, Ghazi Baba, in fighting last week in Kashmir.

Baba, who headed the Indian branch of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e Mohammed.

 
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