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Militants enter school, 210 girls freed but gunfight rages
Updated: 2004-03-11 16:13

Islamic militants freed some 210 girls and their teachers during a break in a gunfight with security forces at a Kashmiri school, where they had taken refuge Thursday after a failed attack on a nearby army camp.

The latest assault was among a rising number of attacks launched by Islamic militants, despite continuing peace talks between India and Pakistan to resolve the decades-old dispute over Kashmir. The nuclear-armed neighbors both claim the Himalayan province and have twice gone to war over the mountainous enclave.

At least four militants were holed up in a school in Khrew, as well as a nearby mosque, an army officer at the site told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Khrew is about 25 kilometers (16 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

Police said militants earlier hurled grenades in an attempt to enter the heavily fortified army base near Khrew.

The militants fled after the guards fired at them, a police officer said on customary condition of anonymity. The militants then took refuge in a girls school some 30 yards (27 meters) from the base, he said.

About 210 girls, eight teachers and two other staffers were trapped in the building for almost four hours while security forces and militants exchanged fire, the officer said.

The militants freed the children and the teachers midday, allowing police officers to enter the campus and lead them out.

Indian Army Col. N. Bali told The Associated Press that the building had been surrounded by troops and firing was continuing between the holed-up rebels and government soldiers. The entire town had been surrounded by soldiers, officers at the site said.

Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based Islamic rebel group, took responsibility for the attack in a call to the local office of the British Broadcasting Corp.

Jaish-e-Mohammad is one of more than a dozen rebel groups fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. More than 65,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 1989.

Violence has continued despite the pathbreaking moves between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. At least 260 people, including 199 militants and 77 civilians, have been killed since January in insurgency-related violence.

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